Rated PG for thematic elements including bullying, and some mild language
Screenplay by Stephen Chbosky, Steve Conrad, and Jack Thorne, based on the novel by R.J. Palacio
Directed by Stephen Chbosky
Starring Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Mandy Patinkin, Daveed Diggs, Izabela Vidovic, Nadji Jeter, Noah Jupe and more
Grade: Three stars
There’s such a thing as wrapping up a story too neatly.
That’s a flaw in the movie adaptation of “Wonder,” the sweet, heartwarming story of a boy with a deformed face, a loving family, and a group of classmates who grow to love him as well. Though the bulk of the movie hits right in heart, with fun characters and a healthy dose of humor, the ending piles on the idealism so heavily that even my Hallmark Channel-loving heart went “hey, this is a little bit too far.” Though well-meaning, it cheapens everything that came before.
The movie, based on the hit children’s novel by Raquel J. Palacio, follows young Auggie Pullman during his first year in public school. Due to a dramatic facial deformity, Auggie had been home-taught by his mother up to this point, but due to pushing from his mother he steps into the public school environment as everyone transitions to Jr. High. The movie also spends some time from the perspective of Auggie’s older sister Via, who is dealing with her own stresses at school, and lightly touches on the perspective of several other character as well.
The promos made it seem like the entire focus would be on Auggie, so it’s refreshing to see a more well-rounded look at the cast of characters. The movie also dips briefly into the viewpoint of certain characters that had previously been seen as antagonists, offering up the quiet but lovely message that everyone has their own story and they’re all worth telling. When balanced with the show’s humor, and just a touch of earthiness, the majority of the movie is perfectly heartwarming without being too preachy. Though you’ll undoubtedly have favorites among the cast – I was particularly fond of both Via and Justin – nearly everyone ends up making a play for your heart.
Then, of course, comes the end. Though a lot of the particulars come from the original novel (and some spinoff material also related by the author), it all feels just a little too pat when it comes together on the big screen. I genuinely feel that most humans have good hearts, but we’re also messy, complicated people and rarely fall as neatly in line as we should. The process of becoming better is a struggle, and the effort we put into it makes the end that much sweeter. The fact that I didn’t see that struggle with some of the characters, and the complete lack of variation in the characters’ responses, made it feel more like wish-fulfillment than a proper ending.
Jacob Tremblay is great as Auggie, giving the character enough humor and nuance to keep him from becoming the Very Special Child of the Week. Izabela Vidovic balances her character as well, mixing her own resentment and sadness with humor and a healthy amount of love. Owen Wilson is surprisingly good as Auggie’s dad, toning his classic humor down and enriching it with something deeper and more mature than we usually see from him.
Overall, it’s still a wonderfully heartwarming movie if that’s what you’re going for. But with just a touch more nuance, it could have been something great.