It’s not possible to write a spoiler for Wonder (2017): if you see the trailer you have seen the film. The beginning, middle and end are laid bare and no filmmaker would dare not have a happy ending for a child born with a facial disfigurement. The story has few narrative twists and turns, an absence of rising tension, and very little character development. So why see it at all?
The plotline is simple. Smart ten-year old Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) has been home-schooled by his devoted mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) in order to protect him from the outside world. Wherever he goes people stare at his face, so it has been a tough decade for the boy born with the rare facial deformity. Together with loving father Nate (Owen Wilson) and understanding sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), the family has prepared him as best they can so Auggie can attend a regular school. His encounters with the students are predictably human, as is the effect on the resilient Auggie. Every clichéd scenario we have seen in every coming-of-age film is played out over the ensuing school term: he is isolated in the canteen; laughed at in class; picked on and called a freak. But slowly, people look past his face and see a funny, intelligent, and kind boy who is no different from any other.
This could be one of the most emotionally manipulative films you will see in a long time. But it is also one of the most endearing. It all rests on the ability of the cast to reach out from behind the screen and squeeze your heart ever so tightly. The film belongs to Julia Roberts. She has one of the most expressive faces in contemporary cinema and the fear, pain and love she emotes as Auggie’s mum is palpable. Anyone who has had a mother will love her performance. Owen Wilson is perfect as a goofy but wise dad whose ‘tough love’ for Auggie is so empowering. Izabela Vidovic does a superb job as the teenage sister who lives in the shadow of her brother’s needs but loves him dearly. With extraordinary talent for such a young actor, Jacob Tremblay is a masked persona in the eye of an emotional storm. The story digresses into several character vignettes to show that even his cruellest tormentors have a back-story that merits sympathy for their behaviour. This is heavy-duty tissues territory.
Few will escape the emotional ambush of this film but you are sure to leave it on a high. Saturated with positive themes and messages, it is especially relevant to anyone who has ever experienced or witnessed bullying or has been shunned because they are different. It is filmed with a down-to-earth realism and a comedic touch that lightens its load but never laughs at the issues. You will not care about overdosing on Hollywood clichés because this delightful and inspiring film is worth every minute.
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Stars: Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay, Izabela Vidovic