‘Wonder’ Evokes Heartfelt Emotion
Everybody gets nervous before their first day of school, but for August Pullman, a young boy who doesn’t quite look like everyone else, the first day at a mainstream elementary school leads to an incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story in “Wonder.” Based on R.J. Palacio’s 2012 New York Times best-selling novel of the same name, the film covers the always-relevant topic of bullying with a message of compassion and acceptance added in for good measure.
On the inside, Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) is a regular kid. He is a science fanatic, who geeks out about ordinary male adolescent pleasures, like “Star Wars” and video games. But his outward appearance reveals the great trauma that the 10-year-old has already had to endure. Left with severe facial deformity after several corrective surgeries in order to correct the harm done by a car accident, Auggie’s face is set in permanent sorrow. Even though his teardrop eyes give him a sorrowful resting face, his voice reminds us that behind the deformity is just a sweet boy.
Auggie, discouraged by his outward appearance, struggles with heightened anxiety as he enters the first day at a new school. Until now, he had been homeschooled by his mother, Isabel (Julia Roberts). But it has come to a point where Isabel and Auggie’s father Nate (Owen Wilson) have decided to send him to middle school. Together, they realize that they’re not going to be able to shield him from the outside world forever. Inevitably, his looks garner some harsh criticism from the kids.
Tremblay, who received much critical adornment from his turn in 2015’s Academy-Award nominated “Room” supplies the character with great sympathy. The young actor stands strong next to his veteran counterparts. It is very much his story, and he carries it well. Roberts and Wilson never steal the film, they merely support it. And very strongly, at that. On his first day, a school bully immediately bestows him with a wicked nickname. But that is just the beginning. However, through all of the brutalization that the character endures from his fellow classmates at Beecher Prep School, Auggie stands to demonstrate the golden rule: it’s what’s on the inside that matters.
Simplistic in its message, the story is beautifully crafted at the helm of director Stephen Chbosky with the script penned by Steve Conrad (“The Pursuit of Happyness”) and Jack Thorne (“War Book”), as well as himself. For a film that originates from a book, “Wonder” translates incredibly well. Book-to-film adaptations can be tricky to maneuver at times, but Chbosky pulls it off. His previous directorial effort, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” illustrated a great slice of teenage life with a sense of warmth and realism equally mixed in with a catchy coming-of-age story. His tone as a filmmaker stands strong here, as his ability to emote strong emotion through the screen translates into a heartfelt and sincere portrait. It is evident that emotion, drama, and human complexities are what Chbosky does best and “Wonder” gives him the platform to properly showcase his efforts.
“Wonder” opens in theaters Nov. 16.