Aida Vucic | 22/11/2017
Wonder is the film adaptation of R.J. Palacio New York Times bestselling book. With familiar notes of The Fault in our Stars, which was hugely successfully, this film acts as a call to action, with kindness as the key.
Its the heartwarming story of August "Auggie" Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a boy born with the rare genetic syndrome known as Treacher Collins. After dozens of surgeries his face has been restored to some semblance of a "typical face", but, of course, society's preoccupation with the physical form means Auggie can never blend into the crowd, and instead draws the eye of all who cross his path.
Fortunately for Auggie, his parents (Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts) are painfully perfect, providing Auggie the emotional stability and support to help the young boy manoeuvre his way through the landscape of middle school, making friends along the way and melting our hearts.
But it's not all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows (which would have tainted any message intended), as Auggie is subjected to the taunts of his classmates. He eventually finds solace in a handful of friends - those who see past "the plague" and see the kindness in Auggie. The story also investigates the characters around him, including his sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), who slightly breaks the family's picture perfect image and recounts the difficulties of never being seen; the isolation, and even the loss of her best friend.
Director Stephen Chbosky brings out the best in each of his varied and diverse cast, in what would otherwise be a difficult feat given the sheer number of talented actors!
Effectively juggling the stories of each of his characters with respect, and harmonising them to a uniform story, Chbosky manages to give each actor and each character a chance to shine, and the cast do a uniformly excellent job at bringing these characters to life, even if some of them have much, much less time to do it in.
Of particular mention is Vidovic. She is only new to her craft, but she was delightful to watch, bringing authenticity to the character with a touch that is rare for actors her age. Wilson and Roberts seem slightly misplaced in this film, given their tremendous star power and the limits of the script confining them to one-dimensional cut-outs. The most victimised by this is Wilson, who seems to just pop in and out from the occasional scene. It's a testament to the two actors ability that they still manage to do tremendously, even with a script that sometimes, particularly for the adult actors, borders on sappy.
With this cast of thousands, it's expected that the individual story arcs will differ in their treatment depths, and that is certainly the case. However, where Wonder really falters is in it's pursuit of two tales; that of Auggie and his sister Via. Fundamentally, Auggie is the main character, and Chbosky focuses on him with almost laser focus. We're certainly intrigued by these other side characters; interested in what happens to his dad at work, interested in his mothers scuttled writing career, and his sister's best friend's sudden withdrawal. These are all elements of interest in any film when dealing with a character like this, but Chbosky decides to actually investigate one of these characters to a degree of depth that is pretty unique in cinema, and in this way he spells his own doom.
As the director gives more and more insight into Via's life, we are utterly entranced. It's a great tale; the sister who has suffered in silence. But it also is one that is tough to leave, and when we go back to Auggie's childhood bully dramas it makes us long for Via's tale. And it also highlights everything that isn't told with the other minor characters.
Aside from the slightly nauseating picturesque family image, Wonder's message is relevant and put together carefully, without distaste and reminding us that beauty is only skin deep. If it fails to focus on the stories we want to hear, it's at least admirable in pursuit of the stories we wouldn't expect to hear.