Following on from Anti-Bullying Week 2017 in the UK, and based on the New York Times bestseller, this heartwarming screen story adapted by Beauty and the Beast writer Stephen Chbosky is highly poignant, reminding us that we are all different but the same inside. In the same vein as the 1985 film that propelled Cher’s on-screen career, Mask, there is a central character that is extraordinary, both physically and mentally, trying to fit in and be ordinary. Personal journeys cannot fail to hit the right chord, if attempted well.
This is the story of August ‘Auggie’ Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a young boy with facial differences who has had years of corrective surgery. Homeschooled by his mother, Isabel (Julia Roberts), he decides it is time to enter fifth grade in a mainstream elementary school. It means going out in the world without his trusted spaceman’s helmet. He encounters many reactions to looking ‘different’.
Chbosky and team have developed a convincing back story to the Pullman household – that includes Dad Nate (Owen Wilson) and big sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) – without relying on schmaltz for reaction. We get a very real sense of each character’s place in the family unit and their hopes, frustrations and reactions to the position they find themselves in. Indeed, the Pullman world does revolve around Auggie and protecting him, but the little boy resists this to an extent, wanting to be judged on merit and personality alone.
The strength of the tale lies in the comparisons between siblings. Wonder juxtapositions their life experiences, and examines how one child gets more parental limelight than the other, through no fault of their own. In fact there is a great deal of ‘selflessness’ to all four characters making truly inspirational viewing. It is outside forces and opinions that propel the narrative forward, using Auggie as the litmus test in each new scenario.
This sweet coming-of-age tale does not leave any of its leads behind either – each one gets a chance to grow their character arc, not just Auggie, which is refreshing. This means none are left as two-dimensional caricatures propping up another, pointing to some great writing and direction.
We are used to seeing Roberts in fighting mom spirit, though this is commendably understated in Wonder, complimented by Owen’s gentle humorous input as Nate. Both Tremblay and Vidovic give engaging performances as the Pullman children. Even though Roberts and Owen are big names on the project, the film belongs to the younger stars.
This enlightening family viewing is full of morals, incentives and solutions for all – not just the standard “you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it” mantra. It is in the little details that Chbosky’s film speaks its greatest volume and empathizes with all characters: There is no black and white in Wonder as the storyline unfolds – even the school bully has a back story that goes some way to explaining his hurtful actions.