R.J. Palacio’s YA novel Wonder is tremendously sweet, frequently heartfelt, and always kind, the perfect book for anyone who has ever felt like they didn’t belong (or have children who feel as though they don’t belong). My ten year old read the book a few months ago, and he was so affected by it, he insisted that I read it as well. I adored it. It is a remarkable little book, full of these wonderful, rousing little moments that illustrate how one little guy can alter the lives of so many people, and always for the better (except for Julian, because f—k that kid).
Wonder is a splendid adaptation of that novel from director Stephen Chbosky, the kind of film that works well on its own, but plays even better as a companion piece to the novel. It’s been streamlined and condensed, as adaptations are wont to be, and while it is potent, it’s robbed of a lot of context that make the big, heartfelt moments in the film even more powerful than they already are onscreen. Good actors can impart of lot of context in a meaningful look or a knowing nod, but there’s so much more to the story of 10-year-old Auggie Pullman that’s left on the page. I’m a firm believer that a movie ought to be able to stand on its own, and Wonder does, but it’s so much more effective when you know what’s going on in the minds of the characters.
Auggie Pullman (The Room’s Jacob Tremblay, not that you’d know it) is a 10-year-old boy who was born with a horrible facial disfiguration. In Wonder, he endeavors to go to school for the first time, beginning in middle school. It is there where he meets a lot of new kids who, initially, do not know what to make of Auggie. Most of the kids look away uncomfortably, too afraid to confront Auggie’s facial deformities. Some are downright cruel and taunt him with names. But then there’s Jack Will (Noah Jupe), a fellow 5th grader who is forced — along with two other kids — to give Auggie a tour of the school.
Jack Will feels only an obligation to Auggie at first, but he finds that — once he gets to know him — that he’s a pretty great kid. And he is a pretty great kid, bravely waking up each morning and putting himself through the wringer of middle school, which is hard enough without looking like Auggie does.
He’s blessed at least with a family that loves him unconditionally. His mother (Julia Roberts) is an amazing cheerleader to he son (and Roberts is great here); his father (Owen Wilson) treats him as he would any other son: With warmth and a sense of humor. His sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), is supportive and compassionate, though she understandably feels like a third-wheel in her own family, a matter that takes on greater import when the relationship with her best friend is strained.
Wonder takes us through that first year of middle school, occasionally altering our viewpoints into the proceedings, and if anywhere, it’s there where the film falters somewhat. It has too many points of view to cram into two hours, and some of the characters are given short shrift in favor of Auggie. Moreover, the child actors — as adorable as they are — are not as capable of doing some of the heavy lifting required to express so much of what is left unsaid from the novel.
Nevertheless, Wonder does precisely what is sets out to do: It’s a lovely family film that grandmothers and grandchildren can appreciate equally. It’s a warm feel-good film crowd pleaser that, for two hours anyway, gives us faith in humanity again, even if that humanity is only on the screen.