Arriving against the backdrop of division, intolerance and hate that is 2017, Wonder is exactly what the doctor ordered to cheer us all up in time for Christmas. With a marketing campaign based around the phrase ‘Choose Kind’, it’s unapologetically uplifting but manages to avoid an overdose of schmaltz.
After directing the adaptation of his own novel The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky takes on R.J. Palacio’s 2012 best-seller with grace and polished control. Wonder is bright, sunny and colourful, and while not overly cinematic in its treatment, still feels grand.
An unrecognisable Jacob Tremblay (Room) is superb again, letting Auggie’s intelligence and empathy shine through while never too showy in anger and anguish. The facial prosthetics are also excellent, with a realistic look that doesn’t distract the viewer or make a mockery of Auggie’s condition.
However, while (to paraphrase the film) 10-year-old Auggie is the sun his family and the story orbit around, it’s not all about him. We also follow his teenage sister Via – overlooked as her parents gravitate towards her brother’s greater needs – as she meets a boy, discovers her confidence and seeks to repair a broken friendship. We also switch to the viewpoints of other characters in Auggie’s expanding little universe.
Backing up the young performers are a consummate Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. She’s the passionate, strong mum and he’s the doting, funny and self-confessed ‘cool dad’, but both are also commendably restrained.
Wonder’s script could be TV movie melodrama in the wrong hands but cast and director pitch it just right, allowing the sad moments to breathe and the happy ones to soar. While there are certainly clichés on view, you just can’t argue with such a feel-good movie and its mission to spread a little more kindness, tolerance and love.
CAST: Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay, Mandy Patinkin, Izabela Vidovic
DIRECTOR: Stephen Chbosky
WRITERS: Stephen Chbosky, Jack Thorne, Steve Conrad (screenplay), R.J. Palacio (book)
SYNOPSIS: Born with facial differences that have prevented him from going to a mainstream school, Auggie becomes the most unlikely of heroes when he enters the local fifth grade.