Wonder Film Review
By Kat Franklin
Wonder (2017) Lionsgate/ Lionsgate Film
Directed by Stephen Chbosky and based on the book by R.J Palacio, Wonder tells the story of a ten year old boy and the challenges he faced while entering fifth grade. It is not a story about deformity, but it is a story about an amazing kid and his experiences.
Auggie Pullman is anything but normal. His facial deformity, mandibulofacial dysostosis, is only a small part of what makes him different. Auggie is incredibly smart; he was homeschooled until fifth grade, when the movie begins. He’s witty, sarcastic, and possesses a dry humor perfectly mixed with the jokes of a young boy. So yes, Auggie thinks burps are funny. Auggie isn’t perfect, either; like all other characters of the movie, he makes mistakes. Auggie accepts his deformity and knows there’s nothing he can do to change it. He’s not delusional, nor does he believe that he will be immediately accepted. But Auggie has hope, which is much more important than a “normal” appearance.
At the beginning of the film, we meet the majority of our cast of characters. Each character is perfectly developed; you can imagine them living past the movie, living in a whole other world from the one they’ve been written into. Each character is real. Each character is represented through their own segments of the movie and their own stories. You never have to guess a character’s motive or reason to do what they do: it’s right there in front of you.
First, we meet his parents. Auggie’s mom, Isobel, is a children’s book illustrator who put her life on hold to raise Auggie. The part of the mother lacks the normal disability story cliches. She isn’t perfect, nor does she resent her child for being born the way he is. She’s overprotective, at times embarrassing, and she loves her child, just like any other mom. The father, Nate, is another perfectly written character, is seemingly oblivious to Auggie’s deformity. He treats Auggie the same way he treats Auggie’s older sister, and he only acknowledges Auggie’s appearance when Auggie needs him to. He plays video games, light-saber duels with Auggie, and he loves his son. He is also not a cliche.
Auggie’s older sister,Via, is next. From the start, Via draws you in; you want to know more about her. And you aren’t disappointed. Via has her own segment- one that doesn’t revolve solely around Auggie. Her best friend Miranda became “cool” over the summer, complete with pink-streaked hair and a leather jacket, and ditched Via to hang out with the popular kids. At first, you’re annoyed. Hasn’t that story been told before? Not the way Palacio tells it.
Enter Justin, a boy who takes an interest in Via because he thinks her to be an only child, like he is. When confronted, Via lies and says she has no siblings. Via quickly falls in love, as do the viewers, with Justin’s open manner and easy smiles. He convinces her to try out for the school play, kissing her on the way home from auditions. Faced with the fear of her lie, Via brings him home to meet Auggie. Justin behaves perfectly, treating Auggie as anyone would normally interact with their new girlfriend’s kid brother.
Then, there’s Miranda. Miranda has been having problems at home, and she knew Via would ask about them when she got home from summer camp. So, she avoids Via. But when she sees Via and Justin together, she realizes how much she misses her old best friend, and how much she wants to fix it. The writers weave together a heart-warming scene where Miranda calls Auggie at the house. She ends up crying because he started public school and she didn’t know.
Auggie makes a new friend as well: a boy in his class named Jack, who goes by Jack Will. He becomes fast friends with Auggie, and they become inseparable. The meaner boys in Auggie’s class consider Jack one of them, however, and during a moment when Jack straddles the line, Auggie overhears him talking about Auggie behind his back. In the moment, Jack says that if he looked like Auggie, he would kill himself. Auggie shuts Jack out, until Jack later figures out that Auggie overheard him, and apologizes for what he’s done. The two make up, and Jack gets in a fight to defend Auggie. In the end, Auggie and Jack create a project for the science fair and win first place.
Of course, the main characters aren’t the only ones that have a life outside the movie. Wonder contains all of the stereotypes without any of the stereotyping. The principal, amusingly named Mr.Tushman, offers a refreshing role with his easy acceptance of the jokes on his name and his stern, but understanding, way of running the school. Contrary to the normal trope of children’s movies, the adults are not idiots, and kids are not evil. Well, not entirely.
The bully and his sidekick, or sidekicks, are very evident in this film. Another boy in Auggie’s class, by the name of Julian, torments Auggie throughout the year. He says anyone who touches Auggie has the plague, and he leaves Auggie demeaning notes, even photoshopping him out of the class picture so there won’t be any “freaks”. Of course, no one can be all evil. Especially not a kid. We learn that Julian’s parents raised him this way; they’ve taught him to hate. He is later sorry for what he did to Auggie, and he wishes he could go back and change it.
However, the movie does leave the viewer unsure about the fate of Julian after his two day suspension. There isn’t any sort of closure. This brings about my only other concern with the movie: the character of Mr. Browne. Mr. Browne was the homeroom teacher of Auggie’s classroom, and he was kind to Auggie without being patronizing. He was brilliantly portrayed and the character was inspiring, but he was left very vague. He had only a few scenes, although it seemed that he was a big part of Auggie’s integration into school, and Auggie was very close with him. I would have liked more on Mr. Browne.
A stunning film to add to titles like Beauty And The Beast (2017) and The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (2012), Stephen Chbosky has once again stolen the hearts of viewers in cinemas nationwide. With amazing casting by Deborah Aquila, Kara Eide, Tricia Wood, and Kris Woz, Wonder is a work of cinematic genius that we’ll be sure to see in theaters for weeks to come.
Everything from the light soundtrack to the warm lighting promises that the childlike whimsy and the overwhelming heartbreak will leave you in tears- both of sorrow and of joy. And of course, you’ll laugh until you pee. Upper Manhattan creates a perfect atmosphere for the family of Auggie and the friends he makes. Further kudos to Wonder for the integration of a Broadway actor into film. Formerly in plays such as Hamilton, Red Light Winter, and The Tempest, Daveed Diggs’ first film role is played impeccably alongside actors such as Julia Roberts, Jacob Tremblay, and Owen Wilson.
Overall, Wonder has a touching theme played out with an uplifting plot and brilliant acting. It spreads the message that everyone is redeemable, everyone can be loved, everyone has a story. It’s about Auggie, but it’s not. Everyone is represented. No voice goes unheard. Auggie has a deformity, and he’s had a hard life, but there are others who are struggling as well. The message of Wonder is this: Everyone is important.
Opens in theaters November 17
Directed by Stephen Chbosky; written by Stephen Chbosky, Steve Conrad, and Jack Thorne, based on the book by R.J. Palacio; director of photography/ camera; Michael Burgess; Casting by Deborah Aquila, Kara Eide, Tricia Wood, and Kris Woz; edited by Corinne Bogdanowicz; music by Kelly Adams; production designer, Kalina Ivanov; produced by Jennifer Booth; released by Lionsgate. Running time: 113 minutes. This film is rated PG.
WITH THE ACTING OF: Jacob Tremblay (Auggie Pullman) Julia Roberts (Isobel Pullman), Owen Wilson (Nate Pullman), Izabela Vidovic (Via Pullman), Noah Jupe (Jack Will), Danielle Rose Russell (Miranda), and Nadji Jeter (Justin)