I went to this movie a few days ago not expecting too much. Stories about kids and disability are often excuses for super-schmaltz, tear-jerking sentimentality, and “the brave little lad conquering all with a sweet smile and saintly disposition”. The type of movie that makes you (well me anyway) sick.
I needn’t have worried. “Wonder” is much better than that, and actually well worth seeing as a – mainly – thoughtful movie about disability. The screenplay, part-written by the movie’s director Stephen Chbosky, is based on a debut novel by RJ Palacio. The novel is a work of fiction, though apparently inspired by an incident involving the author.
The story concerns Auggie, a young lad of about 10 or 11, who was born with a severely disfigured face. Home-schooled in New York City by his devoted parents (played by Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson), his mother decides it is time for him to face the world and go to an ordinary school. His father agrees though with reservations. The school is understanding and supportive, but of course, most of the kids in the beginning are not. Auggie has a long, hard road to full acceptance. Yet he and his parents stick to their guns.
What gives the film an extra dimension of interest is that the story is told from several different viewpoints. Auggie and his parents are just one point of view. Then there is his teenage sister, Via, who loves her younger brother but feels shut out to some extent by her parents’ concentration on her younger sibling. Her tribulations – first love, catty girlfriends, school performance, and the usual preoccupations of teenage girls – are a major part of the story. Then also, Auggie’s first real schoolfriend, Jack Will, also has his tale to tell about his experiences with Auggie. All these different stories and points of view add great depth to the movie.
Performances are uniformly excellent. As Auggie, we have Canadian child star Jacob Tremblay. He played the kid in that tense kidnap movie “Room” a year or two back. In “Wonder”, he gives a great performance as a kid trying to cope with a handicap as best he can, sometimes succeeding and sometimes stumbling. Julia Roberts makes a welcome return to the screen (I haven’t seen her in ages) as the mum determined her son will find a place in the real world, even though there is sadness for them both along the way. Owen Wilson plays a fine, dramatic part as the dad who, not at all sure his wife is correct, nevertheless solidly supports his wife and son. So nice to see Wilson in something different from the usual screwball comedies he is often seen in. He is a very good player of drama. Then there is Izabela Vidovic, who gives a fine and touching performance as Auggie’s older sister. Not to mention the other child actors who are really good as Auggie’s school companions. Hollywood is lucky to have so many talented child performers in its ranks.
Also, don’t overlook “Gidget”, the cute and fluffy dog who plays “Daisy”, Auggie’s dog. A fine performance! Never underestimate a Hollywood acting dog. They add class to any film.
Direction is crisp, the movie not too long (just under two hours), and any schmaltz and cloying sentimentality is largely avoided – except in the very last scene. Apparently this scene is in the novel, so blame the author not Hollywood! You may like the scene – I’m sure thousands will – but I just thought it struck a false note compared with the previous thought-provoking content of an otherwise very good film.
I ended up enjoying the movie thoroughly. My rating: four-and-a-quarter stars.