Stephen Chbosky’s “Wonder” will greet its audience with over-riding themes of kindness, love and acceptance in the face of adversity. One could liken it to Chbosky’s earlier work “Perks of Being a Wallflower” which holds similar values and themes, only targeted at a different audience. Like “Wallflower”, “Wonder” makes sure it’s audience remembers these themes long after the movie ends.
The plot is simplistic even with its changing perspective between characters, however this combination serves to maximise the dramatic moments of the film. August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) is entering his first year of middle school. This is his first time in the education system as a child who has grown up knowing only the medical institutions he has had to visit for countless surgeries. Auggie has Treacher Collins Syndrome which means a monstrous amount of surgeries “to help him breath, to help him see and to appear ordinary”. This is a child with an absurd amount of resilience and yet, what he fears more than anything, is children his own age. He clarifies this thought with “children stare and ask questions” which is an ironic fear since Auggie will spend most of the movie questioning every character about anything and everything. However, in this case this fear is justified as children his own age become the antagonists in an albeit unoriginal “bullying” plotline.
Whilst bullying is a serious offence, it is recognised bizarrely in “Wonder”. Auggie is bullied with notes and threats but his parents never realise the full extent of the situation. Similarly, Auggie’s sister, Via, is also bullied however their parents are fully aware of her situation and do nothing. This gives the plot a surreal quality and the audience begin to worry that this movie is going to get very dark, very quickly as Via traverses the plot with depressive tendencies. However, in a style typical to that of a 90’s sitcom, everyone is happy by the end of the movie. This only heightens the surreal quality of the plot and the audience may feel like the sub plots were never properly completed or that vital moments between characters were skipped altogether.
Whilst Auggie’s character is fascinating in his resilience, his older sister Via (played by Izabela Vidovic) embarks on a plot that is perhaps more so.
“Wonder” presents the story of the family in a multi-faceted way meaning that Via’s story is the next major plot aside from Auggie’s. It is unique in that Via is a well-rounded, fleshed out character who is not solely identified by her brother’s sickness. Unlike other stories in which siblings are only seen as blood transfusions or shadows next to the ill child, Via has been well thought out, which sets “Wonder” apart. Sadly though, Auggie’s parent’s miss out in this characterisation and fall into respective “parent” roles. The mother, Isabel, played by Julia Roberts, is hysterically helicopter parenting Auggie for most of the movie, whilst his father, played by Owen Wilson often only appears to make a well-timed joke about the naivety of youth. It works for the movie and both performances are wonderful given how little they had to work with, however it was a disappointment to see both characters so stereotyped and both actors so niched in their roles where there was so much opportunity to do something different.
This movie has a lot of potential to educate children in kindness and difference and it’s emotional grasp on it’s audience is not to be ignored. In a theatre of adult viewers each one had a moment where tears were shed as the movie has an unapologetic emotional grip that can last days after viewing. It’s sweet portrayal of forgiveness, kindness and change is hard to forget and provides its audience with a sense of wonder (get it?) at how amazing humanity can be.
Wonder is a surprising movie with an emotional intensity that will still hold you long after the end credits. It is a simple and beautiful way to introduce topics of acceptance and kindness to any child and with Wonder’s overreaching “Choose Kind” initiative, these messages are extended beyond the movie screen.
Review by Brittany Treadwell