“Wonder” — directed by Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and co-written by Jack Thorne (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”), Steve Conrad, (“Patriot”), and Chbosky — is a breath of heartwarming, good-natured storytelling in a bleak and depressing fall. Jacob Tremblay (breakout star of 2015’s “Room”), as a school aged child with a face deformity, along with feel good movie staples Julia Roberts (“Money Monster”) and Owen Wilson (“Masterminds”) bring to life the story based on the book by R.J. Palacio. The film tells the story of Auggie Pullman and his attempts to successfully attend a New York prep school despite his unusual physical features.
The film plays in the same sandbox as other middle school movies and “outsider” films but makes the most of both. The middle school antics Auggie finds himself in will feel relatable and honest to anyone who has ever felt left out from a group and the complex dynamic between Auggie, his parents, and his sister (Izabela Vidovic “Homefront”) is well developed and thought out. Story-wise, the only fault that can really be found is that the basic plot beats will be fairly predictable and familiar to anyone who has ever seen a movie like this, but the performances are so moving and Tremblay is so sympathetic that most viewers will brush aside any possibly familiar or repetitive moments and appreciate the movie for what it is: A well-told and well-acted step on Tremblay’s inevitable path to stardom.
Roberts makes a bigger impact as Auggie’s mother than Wilson does as the father, with most of the best family moments going either to her or to Vidovic as Via, Auggie’s older sister. Characters outside the core family are more one-dimensional, with both Augie’s eventual friends as well as the stock bully coming across as fairly stale. There are a number of different teachers who Auggie encounters throughout his journey but sadly none of them leave much of an impression, save for the English teacher played with heart by “Hamilton” veteran Daveed Diggs.
“Wonder” is a simple story coming out in a complicated time. Coming out just in time for Thanksgiving, it’s hard to think of a movie currently in release more suitable for families to attend in their post-turkey stupor than this one. The cast is as likeable as they come, easily drawing the audience into the lives of these characters and it’s a classic and touching story that has something to offer to audience members of all ages. While Roberts and Wilson add gravitas to their roles, like “Room” before it, it is Tremblay that will leave the biggest impact on the audience. With this film, Tremblay solidifies himself as the child actor to watch over the next few years, and he continues to show exceptional range for such a young actor. What more needs be said? “Wonder” is simply fantastic, start to finish.