Hot Take: A near perfect mix of humor, heart, compassion and sophisticated subject matter that makes this the best family film in quite some time.
Family-friendly films are tough to find. Good family-friendly films are even more rare. Wonder is indeed that rare film that is both family-friendly and (very) good. Based on a New York Times bestseller, Wonder is a fictional tale about a boy with facial deformities who leaves home schooling behind and enters the fifth grade of a private school. The film tackles kindness, acceptance and friendship and if you didn’t know it was fiction walking in, you’ll be surprised to learn that it wasn’t a true story walking out. It feels as genuine as any “based on a true story” film and contains believable characters enhanced by great performances from Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and a solid supporting cast. It’s an unabashed tearjerker and will likely turn a small minority of people off with its sappiness but the message of Wonder is clear and poignant and refreshing at a time when this type of movie isn’t nearly as prevalent as it may have been at one time.
Tremblay plays August “Auggie” Pullman, a young boy with facial deformities entering the fifth grade. Previously home schooled, Auggie has been shielded from the public eye and home schooled by his mother Isabel (Julia Roberts). With the urging of his mother and father Nate (Owen Wilson) and support of his sister Olivia (Izabela Vidovic), Auggie summons the courage to attempt to attend Beecher Prep, a private school, and interact with kids his own age. The transition isn’t easy at first as Auggie is an outcast from the other kids who initially can’t see past his deformities. Slowly, members of Auggie’s class see past Auggie’s visible deformities and realize he’s really a great person and has an endearing personality. Eventually, Auggie makes some friends and life at school becomes a little bit easier for him.
One thing Wonder does differently is flip the story around a little bit and tell Auggie’s story from some of the other character’s points of view that are impacted by Auggie. It’s a subtly different approach that does an excellent job of capturing perspective of the other characters. It gives the film some added depth and a layer that separates it from the typical manipulative tearjerker and isn’t necessarily cut from the same cloth as these types of films usually are. That’s not to say Wonder isn’t a manipulative tearjerker. It is. But it’s different in this respect and delivers the feels a little bit more effectively because of this added layer of storytelling not always present in this type of film.
If you end up seeing Wonder and hating it, I feel like you might have known before walking in that you weren’t going to care for this film. I’m also going to judge you and assume you’ve lived a rather jaded life and have a level of pessimism that we aren’t likely to reverse any time soon. Maybe that’s a bit harsh. However, the idea here isn’t to scold someone for their tastes but warn them if they aren’t a fan of sugary sweet affirmations with an overtly positive messages, there’s probably nothing Wonder can do to win them over. Again, that’s likely a small minority which is supported by the success this film has had at the box office. So, for the majority of you, you will enjoy Wonder and experience a wide variety of emotions but you might want to sneak in a few tissues. There’s a chance you might need them.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Tremblay: The Best Young Actor of the 2010s
In 2015, Tremblay burst onto the scene with his spellbinding performance in Room. Since then, he’s been mired in some lesser roles but, even in those lesser roles, you can see the talent he possesses. It’s refreshing for this brilliant young actor to get another great role and he does an amazing job of playing Auggie and bringing his struggle to life on screen.
- The Supporting Cast (Even Beyond Roberts and Wilson)
Both Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson nail their parts but it’s the rest of the cast, the children especially, who add some depth to this film.
- Mr. Browne’s Precepts
It’s no wonder author R.J. Palacio was able to make a spin-off to Wonder called 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts. As cornerstones to the film’s story, Mr. Browne’s Precepts pop up throughout the film. Played by Daveed Diggs, Mr. Browne’s role in the film is small but his precepts are a mechanism for driving the narrative and are both effective and inspiring. The most memorable is “When given the choice of being right or being kind, choose kind.”
“Spoiler Free” Cons
… Eventually, This Being Blank Will Make Sense