December 16, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

‘Wonder’ Movie Review

Get the latest SLJ reviews every month, subscribe today and save up to 35%.

Julia Roberts and Jacob Tremblay in Wonder (Dale Robinette/Lionsgate)

From the first line of dialogue, “I know I’m not an ordinary kid,” author R.J. Palacio’s voice is heard loud and clear in the exceptionally sharp movie version of her immensely popular 2012 novel.

Born with a rare genetic disorder that has caused his face to look different, 10-year-old August “Auggie” Pullman has had 27 facial surgeries, many to improve his sight and breathing—the film doesn’t explicitly spell out his condition. (The book elusively pinpoints that he has a “previously unknown type of mandibulofacial dysostosis.”) The straightforward and upfront adaptation retains the beating heart of the source material, with minimal visual flights of fancy; for example, when viewers first see Auggie, he appears to be floating in space. In fact, he’s just jumping on his bed wearing his astronaut helmet. (Auggie says, “If you don’t like where you are, picture where you want to be.”) So instead of the fantastical, the plot turns on commonplace but meaningful gestures that are, within the context of the story, remarkable, like when a friend comes over after school for the first time.

Auggie has been homeschooled all of his life, and now his parents feel that it’s best for his education if he attends a mainstream middle school; his mom, Isabel, reasons that it will be an easier time to transition since many of the other fifth graders will also be new students. Unlike in the book, Auggie has no friends his age. He’s flying solo—his sister, Via (Izabella Vidovic), is four years older and starting high school across town. He cautiously agrees, and on his first day to school, he wears his astronaut helmet as a shield, not to be stared at. His parents, though, are more afraid of his first day of school than he is; kids aren’t good at hiding their reactions when they first see him. (The casting of Julia Roberts as Isabel is a reminder of her accessible and radiant star power.)

Director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), who cowrote the script with Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne, is on his way of becoming the go-to kids lit movie auteur. The screenplay retains the book’s sensitive and generous spirit and doesn’t take too many shortcuts, clocking in at nearly two hours. Besides the members of the Pullman family, the supporting characters come out as well-rounded and complicated, too, like the chatterbox budding thespian Charlotte. She may be self-involved, but she’s one of the more empathetic kids in Auggie’s homeroom.

Daveed Diggs as Mr. Browne, the homeroom teacher, in Wonder (Dale Robinette/Lionsgate)

Though there are plenty of lessons to be learned by the characters, and for the audience as well, the film draws viewers into August’s point of view, imparting its message of mindfulness on the ground level. The script keeps intact the multiple perspectives of the novel, such as Via’s and that of Auggie’s sometimes-best friend, Jack (Noah Jupe), and the New York City vibe, even though it was filmed in British Columbia. Some minor characters are omitted, and the dialogue cuts straight to the matter, but the story line is always recognizable as Palacio’s. It remains upliftingly positive without pandering while retaining many of the ambiguities and missteps of Auggie’s classmates. In fact, the central relationship focuses on the friendship between Auggie and Jack. If they were 10 years older, their bond would be called a bromance.

Before its release, there have been discussions surrounding the movie. Instead of casting an actor who has a craniofacial disorder, or a similar physicality, the filmmakers missed an opportunity to bring a specific sense of realism to the screen or to draw upon an underrepresented pool of disabled actors. The filmmakers cast actor Jacob Tremblay (the pint-sized powerhouse in Room), who wears prosthetics, and his toned-down appearance doesn’t quite fit Auggie’s description in the book.

However, it’s worth noting that it’s tricky to dissect the casting of a child actor, especially when that artist is fronting a multimillion dollar production and has more responsibilities than most of the adults involved. In large part, the movie rests on his slim shoulders. That said, Tremblay is never less than convincing, and it’s not just the makeup. The movie gains its power from the depiction of the relationships. (Also, the focus on Auggie’s physicality somewhat contradicts Palacio’s message to look beyond the surface.) With this cast, the film would succeed no matter what Auggie, or anyone else, would look like.

Additionally, the movie fulfills a need for smart tween/middle grade drama at the multiplex, where it has had little competition this year. Often Auggie’s mom will rate experiences from a number from one to 10, bad to good. Following her example and her scale, Wonder earns at least a solid eight.

Directed by Stephen Chbosky
113 min.
Rated PG

Extra Helping header

This article was featured in our free Extra Helping enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a week.

Kent Turner About Kent Turner

Kent Turner (kturner@mediasourceinc.com) edits SLJ's DVD reviews and is the editor of Film-Forward.com

Share

Comments

  1. I loved this movie! I was expecting this movie to be a child’s version of the classic “Elephant Man” but it was so much more. Delving into different aspects of Auggie’s life and developing the characters around him.

    This was brilliantly done and has a positive message for all ages and all walks of life. I highly recommend it for anyone!

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind

*