Released 30th November (Australia)
Seen 25th November (Preview Screening)
Directed by Steven Chbosky
Written by Steven Chbosky, Steven Conrad, Jack Thorne
Produced by Lionsgate, Mandeville Films, Participant Media & Walden Media
Starring Jacob Tremblay, Owen Wilson, Julia Roberts
Every generation get’s a movie that could best be described as “Guy with facial deformity tries to assimilate into society”. Our grandparent’s got The Elephant Man, our parent’s got Mask… we get Wonder, because God has decided we are not worthy of the earlier two films.
Wonder follows the story of Auggie (Played by Jacob Tremblay), a young boy who is born with a medical illness that caused him to have a severe deformity. After multiple surgeries to help him breathe and see and hear, Auggie is home-schooled by his mother Isabel (Played by Julia Roberts) and his best friends are his father Nate (Played by Owen Wilson) and his sister Via (Played by Izabela Vidovic). Eventually, however, it’s decided that Auggie needs to try and go to school and so when middle school starts, Auggie goes and all his parent’s hope for is that people will be kind to him.
What this film excels with is acting, every single person brought their A game and light up the screen with some pretty impressive chemistry. The main family unit is adorably sweet and has some pretty fun and adorable interactions between them, especially the Auggie and Via who have some genuinely heartfelt discussions that can make you feel a little twang in your chest. All the kid in this film actually do a good job, they manage to go above what a lot of people think of when they think about child acting. Jacob Tremblay, in particular, does a great job as the lead kid who is able to be at once awkward and shy, before turning on the charm and showing the lighthearted side that he had to develop over the years. It says a lot when a kid can sit across from Julia Roberts and both of them are at the same level.
Where this film falls down is in the writing and story. The basic premise is fine, a story about a boy with a facial deformity going through a school year is great and I’m sure the book it’s based on nailed it, but the movie leans too heavily on cliches. There’s a dog… I don’t even need to tell you what happens, the fact that you know there’s a dog made you think of the cliche that is associated with dogs and that’s what happens. They have a science fair and, as the science fair cliche goes, someone’s making a volcano and that volcano is blowing up in a bully’s face. Ther are awfully stupid bullies who just kinda stop randomly, a best friend betrayal, a school play where the understudy has to go on, think of a cheesy cliche that you would associate with a family picture and odds are good that it’s in here. Sometimes they do work, but more often than not it’s paint by numbers with some pretty bright paint.
An interesting aspect of the film is this repeated idea of “Choose Kind”. It’s not only mentioned in the film, there’s an entire movement around it and that’s great, I hope it goes well but the thing is that no one in this movie seems to be choosing kind. Family doesn’t choose kind, the best friend characters seemed to choose to be a dick for a brief minute. There’s maybe one character who actually chooses to be kind but it’s not even that big of a deal, there is no movement here. There is no sudden inspiring swell where we go from being assholes to choosing kind and I’m sorry but if you’re going to lean into this “Choose Kind” idea (It’s on the posters, it’s been a theme of the project in every single trailer I’ve seen of it) then actually have a moment where the choice to be kind if brought up, beyond the teacher mentioning it once offhandedly in a scene that isn’t even about what the teacher is saying (Oh, Teacher who is filled with wise catchphrases, there’s another cliche!)
Also, can we all just agree that a kid dressing up as bloody Ghostface for Halloween is all kinds of wrong? This kid is a fifth grade, he’d be around 10… and he has already watched Scream? Isn’t that film rated R in the states? Also isn’t that film literally two decades old and, therefore, out of date? Just saying, give the kid a mask from a more recent slasher movie.
Well acted, poorly written, the film survives and thrives on charm and a hope that you won’t notice how every beat of this story has been told before and for a large amount of the time it can be really sweet and adorable enough to push past those cliches but when it doesn’t, it falls hard. There is a line between sweet and saccharine and straddling that line isn’t an easy thing to do, and in my opinion, Wonder doesn’t do it. It’s never actually bad, but it’s also never great.