Wonder review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
There’s a satisfying saccharine nature to the warmth of Wonder. It’s a touchingly simple and yet effective tale of growing up different and inspiring confidence. Sure, it piles on the emotional sweetness of one little boy trying to fit into a word that may not accept him, almost by the numbers with emotional beats. But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work, maybe not at bringing the tears but certainly doing its best weave a sugary smile of good vibes. Sometimes you’re just in the mood for something simply sweet on the heartstrings.
The story centers around the little boy Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), born with problems that led to several problems and an odd looking face. His supportive family of his mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) and his father Nate (Owen Wilson) keep him comfy and sure of himself by homeschooling him, playing with him, and letting him seek sanctuary within a space helmet. He enjoys all the same things most kids enjoy; Minecraft, Star Wars, Halloween. But when he finally attends public school, it won’t be an easy transition.
With such a nice and easy plot, you can most likely pinpoint where all this is going. There will be a bully who makes fun of Auggie that will find himself regretting his actions later on. There will be the one boy who takes a liking to Auggie, only to betray him around his friends and realize how much of a jerk move that was. And mom will naturally be at a loss for words when she is stricken with the emotional moment of her son asking if a friend can come over to play.
This is all territory quite familiar that it’s almost a throwback of sorts to the simpler time of light and gentle heartwarming family tales from the 1990s. Still, there’s a few unique angles here and there that doesn’t make it so one note. Auggie’s older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) feels rejected and alone when Auggie’s condition hogs the spotlight, forcing her to jump for the literal spotlight of getting into drama club. There’s another girl who is closer to Auggie, Summer (Millie Davis), but she feels an odd distance as the boy grows up and comes into his home. I also appreciated how the bully Julian (Bryce Gheisar) is very well-rounded where the distaste of Auggie mostly comes from his parents that photoshop the weird looking kid out of the class photos and argue that society shouldn’t have to bend to avoid hurting feelings.
Director Stephen Chbosky certainly puts in a little extra effort to make us feel more for Auggie, even if the beats come with writing most standard that borders on Afterschool Special territory. One charming visual addition is Auggie’s imagination of astronauts and Star Wars that follows him to school, where Chewbacca can open a door for you and Darth Sidious can comment on how cold a put-down can be. There’s a remarkable commitment to little details of youth, from Auggie’s accurate Minecraft server to the authentic nature of that Chewy costume. It’s these little aspects that make the loose and playful nature of Wonder more inviting than phoned in.
Wonder doesn’t exactly redefine the genre of feel-good stories about a family coming together despite physical differences and emotional distances but there’s a lovable aspect all the same. It’s that diet bit of drama where you just want to curl up and feel good that the world is filled with caring people that can mostly work through their differences and have a good time. And thanks to some tactful decisions in the writing and direction, I had a good time as well, even if not entirely fulfilled emotionally.