There are many reasons why Wonder hit home for me, but the biggest has to be because I am such a supporter of anything that has to do with anti-bullying. As a small, autistic child with a larger sized head (“Big head” was a huge nickname for me as a child), it is easy to see why I was picked on as a kid. If only Wonder had come out two decades earlier (Note: I did have friends as a child so don’t feel too sad for me or anything.)
Based off of the book by R.J. Palacio (which I highly recommend), the film centers on August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay, from Room). After being home schooled by his mom Isabel (Julia Roberts) and having 27 surgeries, the time has come for him to attend public school. It is the first year of middle school for all fifth graders, so Isabel thinks now is the best time, despite the doubts from her husband Nate (Owen Wilson). Both walk him to school on his first day, along with his older sister Olivia “Via” (Izabela Vidovic).
We have learned that Auggie has already met at least a few kids, as well as the principal Mr. Tushman (“I have heard all the jokes”), played perfectly by Mandy Patinkin. There are some who just revel in bullying poor Auggie, such as Julian (Bryce Gheisar), but others who eventually warm up to him, mainly Jack Will (Noah Jupe) and Summer (Millie Davis). Both Davis and Jupe are rather sensational.
If you have read the book, you know that it is divided into sections that are not just narrated by Auggie, but by other friends and family members. I was not sure how the film would have approached this, but it does so wonderfully (though some parts do seem a little jumbled). Some may think subplots like that of Via (who goes to her own school across town) and her time in the drama club would seem off base, but it is still essential to the film as a whole. Her potential romance with Justin (Nadji Jeter) is as sweet a budding relationship as they come.
All the cast is spot on. To start with, there were times I was watching Owen Wilson as the dad and forgetting we are looking at the same guy from movies with Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller. It is truly one of Wilson’s best performances. Of course, Julia Roberts is pitch perfect as the mom, as are all the rest of the adult cast (including Daveed Diggs as Mr. Browne).
Still, it is the young cast that shines the most. The kids don’t act over the top like you would expect in a Disney Channel show, but like real kids (though there is no swearing, so as to keep the movie at PG). Even small roles like that of Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), Via’s best friend, are played with depth and insight.
In the end though, it all goes down to Tremblay as Auggie. Ever since his huge breakout performance in 2015’s Room (which I still feel he was snubbed for at the Oscars), I knew he had a big career ahead of him. Now, more people will be able to see him in Wonder and jump on board. The kid is a born natural actor.
Parents, it has been quiet some time since I have seen a great, non-animated family film. It put a smile on my face that the majority of audience members were kids. There is no sex or nudity (some kissing), and next to no swearing (I think I heard “crap” only once). Basically, I would say ages 7 and up are not only okay with seeing this film, but should see the film.
In a nutshell, Wonder is a pure heart warmer, one that will inspire a lot of discussion in families long after the credits role (Note: I am not a parent, but I would assume a lot of parents will say there are some things the kids do that are not right, such as helping a friend cheat on a test, or fighting.) While Wonder is not my favorite movie of the year, I have a feeling that, when the time comes to make my top ten films of 2017, I will be fighting hard for Wonder to have a spot on the list.
Overall: Four Stars ****