“Wonder” wants to move our heart, and it did its job well. Sure, I could see through its intention right from its first scene, but then I found myself touched by its many sentimental but sincere moments which made me really care about not only its plucky young hero but also several other characters around him. Although I must point out that its drama falters a bit during its last act, it survives its clichéd finale in the end, and I will not deny that I felt a bit good as walking out of the screening room.
The movie is about a 10-year-old boy named August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), who was born with the serious congenital facial deformity caused by a rare genetic disease called Treacher Collins syndrome. As he tells us via his narration, he had to go through no less than 27 plastic surgeries during next 10 years, but he has been loved and supported well by his parents Isabel (Julia Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson) and his older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), and it is no surprise to us at all that he grows up to be a bright, spirited kid who is eager to go up to the space someday.
Although he has been schooled at home by his mother during several years, she decides that it is the time for her son to spend time with other kids around his age, so he soon comes to begin his first days at a preparatory school. While fully supported by his family as usual, he is understandably nervous as being without his precious astronaut helmet which usually shields his face, and he surely draws lots of attention right from when he steps inside the school. He instantly becomes a target to be bullied and ridiculed by a mean kid in his classroom, and no student in the school particularly wants to have a lunch with him at the school cafeteria.
Nevertheless, things are not that bad for him, and he gradually gets accustomed to his new environment. The teachers in the school including his classroom teacher Mr. Browne (Daveed Diggs) are good, caring teachers, and he has a lot of fun in his science class. He also comes to befriend one of his classmates, named Jack Will (Noah Jupe), and they soon spend a lot of time together, though Auggie later happens to feel hurt much by his new friend’s thoughtless words.
Gentle and sensitive in its thoughtful storytelling, the screenplay by director Stephen Chbosky and his co-adaptors Jack Thorne and Steve Conrad, which is based on the novel of the same by R.J. Palacio, depicts its characters with care and understanding, and it also pays considerable attention to some other characters besides Auggie as partially presenting the story via their respective viewpoints. In case of Via, she understood well from the beginning that she had to take care of herself alone while her parents were mostly occupied with her dear younger brother, but, as she frankly admits to us, she often feels neglected by her parents, and that feeling of hers is further exacerbated by the sudden distance between her and her best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). Miranda was quite close to not only Via but also Via’s family, but she becomes rather distant to Via when they begin a new semester in their school, and Via certainly feels confounded about that.
At least, Via comes to befriend Justin (Nadji Jeter), a boy whom she comes across when they join the drama club of their school. When there comes the audition for the school stage production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”, Justin encourages Via to participate in the audition, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that this eventually leads to a nice dramatic moment which will bring some smile to your face.
Although the movie becomes less engaging after that point in my inconsequential opinion, the movie keeps holding our attention thanks to its strong lead performance by Jacob Tramblay, a very talented young actor who previously gave an unforgettable breakthrough performance in “Room” (2015). While virtually unrecognizable due to the make-ups on his face, Tremblay ably conveys his character’s bumpy emotional journey to us, and that is why several key scenes in the film are genuinely touching. With his fabulous performance here in this movie, Tremblay surely proves again that he is a major talent to watch, and I think we can expect more from him in the future.
The other performers surrounding Tremblay are also solid on the whole. While Julia Roberts exudes warm affection and decency as a mother devoted to her son’s well-being, Owen Wilson smoothly balances himself well between humor and drama, and Izabela Vidovic holds her own place well between her two co-performers. Noah Jupe, Mandy Patinkin, Daveed Diggs, Danielle Rose Russell, and Nadji Jeter are effective in their respective supporting roles, and I was especially delighted to see Sonia Braga briefly appearing during one certain flashback scene.
Like Chbosky’s previous work “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (2012), “Wonder” is a well-made coming-of-age drama equipped with good storytelling and engaging performance, and I was entertained and touched enough for recommendation during my viewing. This may be not one of the most impressive movies of this year, but it is a nice heartfelt drama to be enjoyed by family audiences nonetheless, and I am glad that it is my last movie of this year.