Wonder will make you cry.
Maybe it’s going to be when a boy mentions how he’d rather look at people’s shoes than at their facial reactions. Maybe it’s going to be when his mother drops him for a tour around his new school, her face filled with sadness and worry and hope. Or maybe you’ll start prematurely tearing up in the first few seconds of the movie, when a little astronaut floats in front of the starry background before the narration kicks in. Whenever it is, Wonder (2017) is a beautifully written masterpiece capable of bringing anyone to tears.
Wonder, an adaptation of R.J.Palacio’s best-selling novel, follows the story of 10-year-old August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a boy born with Treacher Collins syndrome that causes facial deformity and who has a passion for science, space, and Star Wars. Having been homeschooled all his life, he follows the journey of trying to fit in at his new school, Beecher Prep. The film’s narrative then expands to include voiceovers of the ones closest to Auggie: his older sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), his best friend, Jack (Noah Jupe), and Via’s friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). By deeply developing multiple characters, Wonder is both realistic and emotional, even if its underdog story feels all too familiar.
Despite Auggie’s facial differences instigating most of the conflict in his narrative, his character’s passions and quirks prove to be central to the story’s success. He likes Star Wars and Minecraft, and his bedroom has a star-filled ceiling and astronaut bedsheets. He is a total science geek, and he often wears an astronaut helmet. In other words, he is a regular kid. That’s what makes the movie so emotionally charged: he is just a kid, a kid who is dealing with bullying and eating lunch alone. It’s impossible not to care, especially when the film has developed Auggie as both normal and unique. Tremblay’s performance is also astounding, especially in his voiceovers. His ability to subtly convey sadness, contemplation, or even humor (“What evil man invented dodgeball?” he asks at one point) is remarkable. This all results in Wonder having a captivating protagonist to revolve around, even as the movie tangentially shares other important narratives.
Parallel to Auggie’s story is Via, his older sister. Not wanting to burden her parents, she bottles up much of her own struggles until the movie shifts its angle to her: her best friend isn’t speaking to her, her grandmother has passed away recently, and she, too, feels alone. While her solo journey builds her as a genuine teenager, it’s her moments with her brother that are truly striking. Izabela Vidovic and Jacob Tremblay share great on-screen sibling chemistry. In a certain moment, Via overhears that something happened to Auggie in school, and now he doesn’t want to go trick or treating. Not a minute later, she puts on a makeshift princess costume, opens Auggie’s bedroom door, and declares they’re going out, even when Auggie remarks that he doesn’t have any friends.
“School sucks. People change,” she tells him, not giving up. “We’re each other’s best friends.”
Another bold choice by the film is to include voiceovers for the siblings’ friends, Jack and Miranda. On the surface level, the two are classic movie stereotypes: Jack serves as the protagonist’s instant sidekick partner, and Miranda is Via’s close friend who grew popular over the summer. If their character arcs stopped there, they would have simply been written off as overly simplistic, borderline cliché, and downright forgettable. However, the voiceovers allow the narrative to push them beyond these archetypes. Jack becomes not just Auggie’s best friend, but also the boy who frankly admits he started being friends with Auggie because his mother told him. When he later describes that grew to like Auggie and would now choose him over everyone else, their bond proves itself a believable, strong friendship, instead of an instantaneous connection. Miranda reveals herself to be more than just a suddenly turned mean girl, but also a teenager who grew distant due to her parents’ divorce and who misses Via and Auggie (at one moment, she reveals she’s the one who gave Auggie his signature astronaut helmet). These flashes reveal that the friends, too, have their own motivations and struggles, expanding Wonder’s scope beyond the Pullman family.
In the midst of all these stories, it is impossible to ignore Julia Roberts’ and Owen Wilson’s performances as Auggie’s parents. Roberts’ motherly moments are simply endearing. Whenever her character drops Auggie at school, her eyes are worried and hesitant and hopeful, making their mother-son relationship painfully real. Along her side is Wilson, whose caring and humorous attitude makes him seem to have been born for the father role. While Roberts’ character is emotionally driven, Wilson’s is a nice, light-hearted contrast, distributing just enough dad jokes to make his moments with Auggie heart-warming.
Despite having some predictable moments and following a familiar underdog narrative, it’s the characters that make Wonder a hit. By giving each their chance to shine, the film allows them to grow their own unique voices and embark on their own journeys. When all of these narratives come together, they provide the film with an incredibly well-built, captivating world. Wonder reveals itself to be a realistic, touching story about a young boy and the people around him facing challenges, sticking together, and inspiring others to be kind.