I am very happy right now. Typically, I wait to sit down and write my review of a film until a few hours or a night after I view it, but this is a review I want to write right now. Because right now, Wonder has put me in a happier mood than I’ve been in for a long time. This movie is a rollercoaster of emotions, but they are the best kind of emotions. They are emotions of love and joy: between the characters, for the characters, and because of and for the movie as a whole. Wonder is a masterpiece of joy triumphing over hate and love triumphing over sadness. If you’re going to see one movie this week or this month, make sure it’s Wonder.
Wonder is based off the bestselling novel of the same name by R. J. Palacio. It tells the story of a little boy named August (or Auggie for short,) and his intimidating first year in a public school during the fifth grade. Auggie is a boy just like any other – he loves Star Wars and Minecraft and outer space. The only difference is that Auggie was born with Treacher Collins Sydrome, which causes facial deformity. The story follows Auggie, his new friends, his mom, his dad, and his sister as they all go through the transition of Auggie’s first year at a public school.
For those, like myself, who haven’t read the book, the most surprising and most pleasing thing about this film that you’ll discover is that it isn’t just about Auggie. Don’t get me wrong, every scene with Auggie is delightful, encouraging, and emotional, but what truly makes this story so great is that it has a much grander scope. The film uses an interesting narrative tool where it breaks the story into four chapters, told from four character’s perspectives. The first is Auggie, the second is Auggie’s sister Via, the third is Auggie’s best friend Jack Will, and the final one is from the perspective of Via’s best friend Miranda. While in the film the formal execution of this four-part narrative with the titled chapters is inconsistent and trails off irresponsibly, the idea to tell the story from these additional perspectives is what makes it truly memorable. This is a compliment more for the writer of the novel than for the screenwriters of the film, but it is the thing that makes this movie as great as it is.
Credit is due to the film’s three screenwriters for including as much of the side stories as they do. Where the most credit is deserved however, is to director Stephen Chbosky. Chbosky’s only previous film was the adaptation of his book The Perks of Being a Wallflower, an also extremely emotional film, though it played to a different series of emotions. When directing Wonder, Chbosky saw and recognized the most cherishable, and dare I say wonderful, elements of this story. Chbosky composed some truly emotional scenes, be it happy or bittersweet, using elements of the story that most directors wouldn’t think to spend the time on. These seemingly insignificant scenes, which showed the impact Auggie had on every character’s life, are what takes this movie from good to great.
The other thing Chbosky recognized was the power he had in his actors. I’ll starts with Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts since they’re the biggest names in the cast. There are two or three scenes in this film which Wilson and Roberts share alone, and they are some of the best in the film. They had the benefit of playing incredibly well-written characters, but these two took their characters and their scenes and singlehandedly made this a better movie.
Izabela Vidovic, who plays Auggie’s sister, carries a large portion of the film on her own, and makes just as much impact as Roberts, Wilson, and even Jacob Tremblay, particularly in an emotional respect. And then of course there’s Tremblay, who already proved his talent in Room two years ago. In this film, however, Tremblay proves that it wasn’t a one-time deal. Other actors including Mandy Patinkin, Noah Jupe, Dielle Rose Russell, and Nadji Jeter also contributed, not only as members of a great cast, but by making every scene they were in another, consecutive highlight of the film.
Narratively, there were ways Wonder could have been better, but only in the most technical sense. I already mentioned the incomplete nature of the four-part chapter narrative, and the plot itself doesn’t build to an overly significant climax. But I say with the truest sincerity that those two technical flaws in no way held Wonder back from being an amazing film. This movie tells an awesome story, features some incredible performances, and makes you feel a plethora of emotions during its two-hour runtime. But probably the best part is that those emotions culminate in an uncontrollable sense of joy – joy which will not only bring tears to your eyes, but joy which will stick with you for a while after the credits are finished rolling.
I give Wonder an 8.8/10.