- Product Rating -

Wonder

| November 25, 2017

When I write about movies that involve kids, I often feel obliged to discuss my resentment towards those little creatures that seem to telepathically gaslight adults into cuteness-fueled submission. However, I want to amend that by specifying that middle school kids are by far and away the ultimate scum of the earth, so Wonder really struck me as off-putting from the release of its first trailer. Maybe it’s my being shocked whenever I prove to have some semblance of human emotions, but Wonder is, at times, alarmingly realistic in how it looks at its characters. With a script shifting in points of view in order to convey the contagion of compassion, it makes for an engaging, amiable watch. It won’t be remembered in a few months, but sometimes it’s fine to just enjoy something even if it proves to be largely inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Oh, shucks, there’s my existential nihilism creeping in again.

Based upon the novel by R.J. Palacio and adapted by Jack Thorne, Steve Conrad, and Stephen Chbosky, the latter who also directed, it follows August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay, Room), a homeschooled boy with Treacher Collins syndrome who’s sent to private school by his parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) in time for middle school, which here apparently begins at fifth grade. Naturally, as a disfigured child going into school with other kids for the first time ever, Auggie is pretty nervous, and rightfully so given the bullying that has soon has to endure. Soon, those around him are led to find their compassion for Auggie as Auggie himself is led to find his sense of security as a person. What sounds like a patronizing cringe-fest on paper is really heartfelt at times, and the script gives adequate time to peripheral characters and largely avoiding the more overt drama that it so easily could have fallen back onto.

Chbosky has, in his five-year film career, made his work of varying quality in my eyes—while I absolutely loved The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I couldn’t stomach the emptiness of Beauty and the Beast, which he co-wrote. Wonder, though, goes back to the realism that his debut had, along with a sense of humanism that balances itself with crowd-pleasing appeal. The film shifts to tell the stories of those around Auggie, including his older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), her love interest Justin (Nadji Jeter), and her ex-best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), and the movie balances the perspectives quite well. The variation in structure provides for more fluidity in tone and material, but it also helps connect each person in a way that feels stronger than tenuous. This is in part thanks to the cast, who ground the dialogue in the event that it’s neither realistic nor self-knowing. The child performances are varying degrees of decent, and Tremblay runs circles around most of them thanks to his refusal to play the protagonist as precocious.

It all makes for a movie that’s in turns cute and honest, but it still doesn’t excel those attributes. The movie is almost two hours long and sports a final sequence that doesn’t need to exist, which is quite maddening given how solid the pacing is up to that point. As stated earlier, some child performances play just as kids on camera reciting words, and the cinematography from Don Burgess (Spider-Man, The Conjuring 2) is pretty flat, which is a bit surprising given his filmography thus far. Chbosky’s feel-good direction sticks out as artificial at moments—two uses of a certain White Stripes song about becoming friends is so on the nose that it almost spited my own face.

Nevertheless, Wonder knows that kids need not be violent to be violent-minded, and it also knows that people’s perception of others is, at the end of the day, related to their perceptions of themselves. It knows that kids aren’t unaware of the normalization of dehumanization within the adult world, and similarly, these kids are, in a way, influenced by pop culture despite what others may think. It doesn’t always convey this in the most subtle manner, but honesty is more important than subtlety. Or maybe I just liked Wonder because a Ghostface costume is a plot point of sorts. I don’t know.

About the Author:

Senior year film student at Columbia College Chicago, Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener, and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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