D.C.’s Take: “Wonder”

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Never did I think this year would have multiple movies that have the word “wonder” in the title. We already know “Wonder Woman” was basically a masterpiece, but the new family film “Wonder” takes the word to new heights.

Based on the New York Times bestseller, “Wonder” follows the story of August "Auggie" Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a young boy born with a facial deformity who has been in and out of hospitals for years. With the help of his mother, Isabel (Julia Roberts), and his father, Nate (Owen Wilson), he tries to fit in at a new school, Beecher Prep, and to show everyone he’s just an ordinary kid and that beauty is not just on the outside. A movie like this could have easily gone the route of becoming an after-school special. From the trailers, it looked like it was going for a feel like “The Blind Side” or “Mask” with Eric Stoltz. When I heard Stephen Chbosky was directing this project, it actually made me excited, because I absolutely loved his adaptation of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” After finally checking “Wonder” out two weeks after its release, I was honestly surprised by this heartwarming drama that’s easily a film that can draw many people to enjoy. “Wonder” does such a fantastic job at getting the meaningful message of not judging people based on their outward looks, but by what’s on the inside. To this day, there are many kids in schools that are being bullied, maybe because of a trait that stands out from the rest. Everybody looks at Auggie with expressions of apprehension on their faces, not knowing the person he really is. As you’re watching, you really feel bad for him whenever something bad is said about him. Ever since his breakout performance in “Room,” Tremblay has been an impressive actor. Even in terrible films like “The Book of Henry,” he’s still capable of being a lovable child actor that everyone falls for. With Auggie, he’s such a likable kid that doesn’t want everybody to look at him and see this weird kid with an abnormal face. He wants to be like everyone else and be happy.

By the way, the makeup work was perfect. If this type of kid was in my class when I was in fifth grade, you bet I would want to be friends with him. And the kid loves “Star Wars,” so that’s a huge plus right there. Besides Tremblay, Roberts and Wilson as his parents give the best performances of their careers. Wilson especially gives one of his best performances in a long time, and I glad he’s in a great movie. I’d forgotten that he’s a good dramatic actor when he needs to be. And while I’m not the biggest fan of Roberts, for reasons I even still don’t know, she was excellent, and she really plays the mother role well. Chbosky and co-writers Jack Thorne and Steve Conrad’s translation of R.J. Palacio’s book to the screen seemed flawless to my eyes, though I must admit I haven’t read the book. The story takes on a different direction than you expect. My expectation was that the story would focus on Auggie, but it also focuses on some of the other characters’ perspectives and how their lives change because of Auggie. This could’ve been lame, but it ended up being useful. For instance, we have Auggie’s big sister Via (an outstanding performance by Izabela Vidovic) with her important storyline, as well as Jack Will (“Surburicon”’s Noah Jupe), Auggie’s first real friend. Speaking of Via, I love the relationship between her and her brother, seeing that she cares so much about him. There are a few moments where I actually got choked up because of how happy I was when certain scenes played out. It’s not that the whole movie is a tearjerker, but it does end up being emotional for people who need their spirits lifted up. My one problem with it is that there was one scene that doesn’t quite fit the tone of the rest of the film. Still, it was over very quickly. By the end, “Wonder” just cheered me up after a less than successful day. It’s filled with so much joy. Tremblay does a great job in the leading role, as did the other performances. It didn’t feel too cliché, it’s well-written and it's very relatable for people who can very much connect our main kid who has this deformity. Does it go out of its way to feel cheesy? Maybe, but that wasn’t a problem to me because of the satisfying storytelling. “Wonder” may lean into sentimentality, but it still felt special with its message as this was one of the most touching and sweet family films of the year. Grade: A-    
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