Based on the best-selling book, “Wonder” is one of those films
where you better bring your tissues. Yes,
it will play your heartstrings so hard you'll start to feel emotionally
manipulated. But the superb
cast, and the deft direction, help keep the sentimentality just this side
of maudlin, and just the other side of formulaic.
Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay of “Room”) was born with the
kind of facial deformities that even after many operations, he still looks
like a freak. He's ten now,
and a fairly normal kid otherwise. He's
fortunate to have loving parents and an understanding big sister.
He's been home schooled up to now, but it's time for Middle School,
and his parents think this would be the time for him to try going to a
“real” school---when there are lots of new kids.
But nobody's quite like Auggie.
Kids stare at him, look away, then stare again.
Adults usually manage to wipe that horrified look off their face,
but then avoid eye contact. Or
any kind of contact. Yes,
other than his family, Auggie is a very lonely kid.
No real friends. So his
new principal (a well-seasoned Mandy Patinkin) asks a few students to be
especially nice to Auggie. But
it all kind of backfires when Auggie realizes that they're not really his
friends, which makes him feel even more isolated.
His big sister, Via (Izabella Vidovic), is having her own troubles
adjusting to high school. Her
best friend suddenly decides to run with another group.
There's this boy that's showing an interest in her, but her Mom,
Isabel (a subdued Julia Roberts in an understated role), seems to only
have time for Auggie. Her Dad,
Nate (Owen Wilson) is supportive, but he never stands up to Mom.
It's different for Auggie, because while he doesn't want other
people's pity, neither does he want to be universally ignored.
He's a smart kid, especially in science, but he's so eager to
endear himself that he'll allow another student to cheat off his test. He's
perhaps a bit stunted, emotionally: he
holds grudges, he'll assume the worst about people, he'll suspect the
motives of people just trying to be nice to him.
But nobody knows what it's like to be him, either.
Yes, there are plenty of facile social themes here:
accepting yourself as you are, not belittling the challenges which
others face, not bullying. Navigating
the love/hate of sibling rivalries, even if it's only for parental
tolerance of differences. Learning
patience. But all of those
wall-slogan-type platitudes pale in comparison to watching Auggie Pullman
become a wonder, before our marvelling eyes.