Wonder – Film Review by Cal Byrne
Directed by Stephen Chbosky
Written by Stephen Chbosky, Jack Thorne, Steven Conrad
Stars: Jacob Tremblay, Owen Wilson, Julia Roberts, Izabela Vidovic
Growing up is pretty difficult. Most people manage to get there at some point in their lives but many don’t. It’s a process filled with false dawns. There are times when you think you’ve cracked it only for life to slap you in the face and remind you of what an infantile and selfish creature you still are. Stephen Chbosky’s new film Wonder explores this process through the sometimes helmet-obscured eyes of Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay). Auggie was born with Treacher Collins syndrome meaning he has facial differences and doesn’t look like most kids. He’s needed a couple of dozen of surgeries to help him to breathe and see normally, but none of these procedures have helped him to look normal.
Wonder could have easily have focused on the misfortune of being born with Treacher Collins syndrome and the difficulty for the parents involved. It’s easy to imagine a movie made up of dramatic hospital scenes with ashen-faced doctors offering their sympathies. Chbosky doesn’t do this. Instead, the film starts with Auggie’s first day of school and asks the more interesting question how a kid is supposed to fit in to the already arduous process of starting school when he’s already earmarked as different.
The answer is found in a variety of places. Wonder cycles through perspectives of the characters around Auggie to show that everyone is struggling in their own way. There is the school friend embarrassed about being from a disadvantaged background, the best-friend whose parents are going through a messy divorce and the overshadowed sister who tries to stay strong for her parents. Auggie’s sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) tries to make this point explicitly to him but he struggles to grasp its magnitude. Like most kids, realizing that the universe doesn’t revolve around you can be a tough one to get a hang on.
Wonder does well to toe the line of heart-warming drama without straying into outright cheese. There are few dramatic switches that are a tad on the obvious side but otherwise Chbosky and Co’s script stays the course. This is helped along by a strong supporting cast. Izabela Vidovic plays the overshadowed sister ‘Via’ brilliantly and both Wilson and Roberts bring something to the table as the well-intentioned but ultimately flawed parents. Chbosky’s offbeat notes also draw the audience in. There are some interesting dream sequences in the opening half with a particularly memorable cameo from Chewbacca.
Wonder surprises you in many ways. It’s not a film about a child suffering from an unfortunate condition but rather the misfortune that can befall all children as they grow up. Despite an overly hammy whiff emanating from the trailer, Chbosky’s film works. You feel emotional when you should feel emotional and it sustains the near two hour runtime without becoming tired. Just be warned, this is not to watch if you are in a particularly delicate state unless you enjoy being rendered a blubbering mess.