Can you complain about a movie about a boy with severe facial deformities who overcomes numerous obstacles to emerge as the school favourite?
Begone, all ye curmudgeons.
Stephen Chbosky’s three-hankie Wonder, based on RJ Palacio’s 2012 novel of the same name, is set in a largely tolerant and multi-racial corner of New York City. Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) has been hidden from the world because of his face, which retains the ability to attract stares and revulsion despite numerous surgeries. After being home-schooled for years, Auggie’s parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) take the brave step of enrolling him in the fifth grade, and stand by anxiously while their son navigates bullying, rejection and isolation.
Auggie’s journey is intercut with the experiences of his sister Olivia (Izabela Vidovic), who has long learnt that her brother is the centre of her parents’ world, and mother Isabel (Roberts), who has sacrificed her career to bring up Auggie. As Auggie finds his feet at school, Olivia seems to lose her bearings, and her journey towards self-realisation emerges as an equally powerful track.
Auggie’s chronicle pushes through the need for kindness, empathy and tolerance without preachiness, even though the deep and often open wounds that result from bringing up as social misfit stay largely out of sight. Another movie that wasn’t so insistent on being a modern-day fairy tale would have been tougher about the struggle faced by children such as Auggie. His heart-breaking question to his mother, of whether it will ever get any better, isn’t as easily answered as it is in Wonder.
Instead, Chbosky swaddles the film in warmth and unending optimism. He extracts pitch-perfect performances from the cast and dispenses with lachrymose sentiments. Although Auggie’s problems are solved a bit too smoothly, the movie works hard to create a convincing world of loving parents, curious and occasionally cruel school children, and a school system that nurtures Auggie’s talents. Chbosky doesn’t expend any effort on manipulating the tear ducts. They tremble of their own accord, especially when Auggie slowly makes friends, overcomes his inhibitions, and twists his misshapen features into a triumphant grin. The result is moving rather than manipulative.