Stephen Chbosky’s previous film The Perks Of Being A Wallflower demonstrated his fondness for toughness, and his latest drama Wonder (drawn from R.J. Palacio’s book) concerns another outsider, one who might never wholly fit in, but that’s okay.
It’s a bit of a stretch, perhaps, to turn out a movie like this through image-obsessed Hollywood studios and make it all about inner beauty. Yes, it is a bit manipulative at times but, nevertheless, you probably won’t mind. You might even be glad to be manipulated.
Jacob Tremblay (star and narrator of the Oscar-winning Room) again narrates here, and tells the story of his Auggie Pullman, a smart, sensitive 10 year old who’s spent his life being home-schooled and mostly keeping his face covered with a replica space helmet.
Auggie has hidden himself away, as he has mandibulofacial dystosis (or Treacher Collins syndrome, although the condition is never named here), which has led to 27 surgeries and facial deformity (rendered via special make-up designed by Arjen Tuiton). Yet his parents Isabel (Julia Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson) think it’s time for him to get out and attend middle school. Auggie’s not so sure, and early scenes where he’s stared at, mocked and called ‘Darth Hideous’ could prove fairly traumatic for anyone who was bullied as a kid or an adult.
He doesn’t give up though. Soon he’s made real friends, including Jack (Noah Jupe from Suburbicon) and Summer (Millie Davis), and then the script takes a turn allowing a series of characters we’ve seen to have their own chapters, some of them showing the same events from different perspectives in a trick that almost feels like, of all things, Reservoir Dogs. Izabela Vidovic as Auggie’s big sister Via, for example, is especially moving in her own thread, as she’s betrayed by her former bestie Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), joins a drama class, finds herself romanced by Justin (Nadji Jeter) and proves conclusively something she says to Auggie in a frustrated moment: yes, life isn’t just about him. Life, for all these people, is pretty damn hard.
Wilson is very likeable here and Roberts delivers one of her best characterisations in years, but this is all about the kids, with fine work from Jupe, Davis, Vidovic and Bryce Gheisar as Julian the lonely bully. And, of course, there’s Tremblay, 10 or so years old when the film was in production and offering a quietly strong, sometimes sharp-edged performance while also remembering that Auggie isn’t a saint or martyr. In the end, he’s just a kid trying his best to face the world.
Rated PG. Wonder is in cinemas now.