TL;DR
  • Focuses on a wide range of characters, strengthening the whole film
  • Wobbly structure – more a series of scenes and no climax
  • Predictable story
  • Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts are excellent – but deserve more screen-time
  • Great cast, esepcially Jacob Tremblay
  • Uplifting, sweet and heart-warming

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Oscar-season is upon us and, as with every year, December/ January is the time where the big Oscar contenders start to come up (along with the obligatory Christmas films – and Star Wars…). These films often tackle fairly tricky topics with either depressing or uplifting outcomes. Wonder falls into the latter category, giving us a reflective look at how our society views people aesthetically and inspiring an audience perhaps to change their views and certainly to feel happy and positive. Though these sorts of films are annual and inevitable, ones like this (especially when appropriate for families of all ages) are an absolute joy and always welcome.

Based on the best-selling novel by R.J. Palacio, Wonder tells the tale of Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a boy born with complications that has resulted in slight disfigurements and making him look slightly different, thus feeling rejected and isolated from a world that instantly judges him and treats him differently. At last he’s joining a public school for the first time, naturally hesitant about how his classmates might respond to him. Obviously it’s difficult for Auggie to fit in and make friends, and the film tracks his journey in his first year, including all the ups and downs, and even showing us the other sides of the story so often forgotten; along with Auggie’s story we see the story from the point of view of his family and friends, giving us a full-rounded, heart-warming tale.

In fact one of the main positives of the film is the fact that it doesn’t solely focus around Auggie. While he is the main centre of the film, he isn’t the be all and end all of the film’s story and the movie’s so much stronger for showing us how Auggie’s experiences affect his family and friends. Whilst we start with Auggie, soon we go to his sister Via’s (Izabela Vidovic) experience of having a brother like Auggie, then we have Auggie’s first friend Jack Will (Noah Jupe) and even his sister’s best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). While it’s a very nice touch that doubtless strengthens the storytelling it does noticeably leave out the point of views of father Nate (Owen Wilson) and mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) – especially strange as they are particular highlights. It would have made a lot of sense to have incorporated the parents’ side into the overarching narrative and it’s a shame that this is left out. Still, having the story progress from different points of views enriches the film and makes it more interesting and enjoyable.

On the other hand, it also highlights the weakness of the film’s structure. While they might clearly signal we have one character’s point of view, this doesn’t necessarily last long and isn’t clear when it ends. On top of this, the film’s structure is wobbly at best, with no specific climax; rather what we instead have is a series of scenes that make up the story. Whilst enjoyable, it results in the film seeming longer than it really is and feeling as though we are robbed a climactic endpoint. Building on from this, despite it being heart-warming and uplifting, the story itself is extremely predictable, each and every plot point easily guessed and giving us no surprises or plot twists, which furthers the occasional feeling of staleness the film can suffer from. With such a great story and message at its heart, it feels as though the plot and structure could have been stronger to match.

Of course a pleasant story from all sides is nothing without a great cast to tell it – and this is a cast brimming with charm. It’s wonderful to see Owen Wilson as a big-kid, ‘cool’ dad and to have Julia Roberts as a committed lovable mother who’d do anything for her children. As you’d hope they’re delightful scene-stealers whenever they appear and honestly they deserve more screen time than they get. Still, the rest of the cast perform brilliantly that we don’t miss these two stars when they’re not on-screen. Noah Jupe is great as Auggie’s first real friend, Izabela Vidovic excels as the selfless, endlessly understanding sister and Bryce Gheisar is delightfully detestable as bully Julian. On top of this, Mandy Patinkin’s headmaster Mr Tushman deserves a special mention for being the kindest and wisest bearded on-screen headmaster since Dumbledore. Jacob Tremblay though is the stand-out in this film. Sporting very impressive make-up, he fully embodies the character of Auggie, charming us and helping us fall in love with the boy behind the face, and fully selling the very important message behind the whole film. From Room to Wonder, it seems that Jacob Tremblay has proven himself to be a force to be reckoned with and surely has a bright future ahead of him (particularly in films with one word titles apparently…).

This is just the sort of film we need occasionally; one that questions and examines our society, but ultimately gives us faith in humanity with an inspiring, uplifting and heart-warming film. Despite a rather iffy structure and not giving enough screen-time or focus on Wilson and Roberts‘ characters, Wonder absolutely delivers on what it should do, resulting in an enjoyably sweet film for all ages with a special message that can’t fail to warm your heart and wet your eyes.

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