Wonder (2017) Review

An unapologetic cry to do unto others...

by Steve Pulaski

Since seeing several trailers for Stephen Chbosky's Wonder, I've colloquially been referring to it as "I'm Not Crying, You're Crying: The Movie" as a way to point out the general nature of films like it.Wonder is cut from the same secular inspirational cloth as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Closeand Patch Adams in that it tells a story tailor-made to tug at your heartstrings and get you to weep on several occasions. Films like this get on my bad-side quite easily, as they scarcely offer any natural emotions to brew for the audience and they preach tired morals that bear little difference than the ones we were taught from books in nursery school.

Wonder preaches the gospel of kindness in efforts to personify a story of "the golden rule" through Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a fifth-grade boy living in upper Manhattan with his mother and father (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) and his older sister "Via" (Izabela Vidovic). Auggie has Treacher Collins syndrome, a disease that effects the physical development of a child's eyes, ears, and other essential facial features, although the brain is mostly left unaffected. Since birth, Auggie has underwent 27 surgeries, including plastic and reconstructive surgery, in order to assist his breathing and make him look as physically "normal" as possible.

Still, Auggie is understandably apprehensive when his parents pull the plug on homeschooling him, as they've done his entire life, and place him in a preparatory school. At school, Auggie is the center of attention for the worst possible reason, as his classmates constantly look on to him with mystified reactions, quick to laugh at him behind his back, and make him the school pariah. He makes friends with a young boy named Jack (Noah Jupe), who turns out to fall victim to peer pressure rather easily, and then another girl named Summer (Millie Davis), yet he still strives to be "ordinary" in an environment where normality and conformity are everything.

In addition to seeing Auggie's struggle, we get the perspective of several other characters in the film, including his sister Via, by far one of the most interesting, as she has taken a backseat to Auggie since she was born. Her ex-best-friend once referred to her household as Earth because it "revolves around the son" rather than the daughter. While Via is viewed as "understanding" by her parents, who need to devote extra attention to Auggie, she feels lonesome on a regular basis, she often gets by lacking the validation her brother constantly gets. Things look up for her when she decides to join the school play on account of a cute boy (Nadji Jeter) charming her one day by the signup sheet, and while her story takes off, we get perspective on Jack and her ex-best-friend's situation that, like the Earth, comes back to revolve around the son in some way.

Wonder's decision to look at the secondary characters in Auggie's life is a favorable one. Via's story shows what happens far too often when a child that needs more care and attention enters the life of one who was previously the youngest person in the household. Showing both her and her brother's closest friends is liable to provide introspection for ourselves to judge if we have really been good friends in our own lives. There still remains a black-and-white contrast to Wonderand its depictions of right and wrong. Bullying isn't always staring in the hallway or whispering right in front of someone's face, nor does the most deserving soul wind up getting the award for being the most impacting student. But in Wonder's world, these things must work out or we as audience members have nothing to feel good about and nothing to cheer on.

The transcendent detail that overcomes the film's loyalty to obvious, unambiguous emotions are the performances, which are uniformly strong. By now, Tremblay (Room) has shown that he'll not only be around for a long time but he'll continue being given roles that allow him to make an impression on audiences, and his work in Wonder helps solidify such an assertion. Roberts and Wilson are their own likable selves, and Vidovic stands as the best actress during the script's most emotional moments.

It is (sadly) true that most people need a reminder to be kind in this world we live in today. Before greatness can truly manifest, cordiality should come first, and we should do our part to make America, and the world, a bit more cordial by making ourselves more respectful to each other. Wonder is an unapologetic cry to be quick to befriend as quickly as we are to judge those who are different from us. Though that message will likely preach to the choir that likes their stories simple and their morals extra saccharine (I stress there isn't anything wrong with this), it's hard to say the film's attempt isn't sincere, which almost always counts for something.

Steve's Grade: C+

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