Wonder embodies the very essence of Thanksgiving and the entire spirit of kindness that tends to only come out in limited quantities during the Winter holidays. The film will flood your emotions with feelings of empathy, and no one is better suited at delivering a complex story about adolescence like co-writer/director Stephen Chbosky. Unlike Chbosky’s previous film, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, our protagonist is in middle school and must face the rash insensitivity that children are often capable of. He treats the story as an inspirational one about the indomitable positivity of a child who is facially different from the other kids. There is always an obstacle to overcome, with this one, of course, being bullying. It’s an obstacle that even kids without facial differences have to often overcome in a school environment, but for August (Jacob Tremblay), it has become part of his everyday life.
These types of film can easily cross into cheesy/schmaltzy territory where the emotions seem disingenuous, or even worse, manipulative. For the most part, Chbosky keeps the film’s tone overwhelmingly sympathetic without crossing too far into an emotionally manipulative territory. Aside from a moment or two that seems emotionally forced, and a loss created solely with the attempt to elicit tears, Wonder succeeds at creating a genuine human experience that epitomizes the very definition of a “feel-good film.”
The story is told through several shifting perspectives, each showing the emotional development of the character and presenting their obstacles. Ultimately, every character is able to work through their problems and arrive at the same, positive realization that their lives are made better by the strength and courage of August. Your life may be made better by just sitting through this film, or at the very least, satiate you with enough Star Wars references and visual cues to hold you over until December when the new film comes out.
The visual style of the film is whimsical, perfectly playing into the imaginative mindset of a child while providing some pleasant nostalgia to the adults. The film’s poignancy stems from how well it recreates the general middle school experience. The relatability of being an outsider is something most of us know and remember all too well, and Chbosky continues to prove he understands how to bring these feelings to life on screen, with some help of course.
Jacob Tremblay displays his full emotional range, reminding us why he is one of the best child actors in Hollywood today. Wonder is a perfect compliment to his breakout, tour de force performance in Room, and even the oddly endearing The Book of Henry. Tremblay is able to bring a level of sincerity to the character that eludes most adult actors. His ability to emote through his facial prosthetics is an equally impressive feat. His co-stars like Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Izabela Vidovic, and Noah Jupe each add significantly to the emotional complexity of the film. Even smaller characters played by the likes of Mandy Patinkin, Sonia Braga, and Daveed Diggs, each add to the emotional development of the story and the characters.
One of the greatest criticisms I have of the film is that everything takes place in a microcosm of society where white privilege is ever-present. August comes from a wealthy and prominent family that is able to provide him with special care not available to the average family dealing with Treacher Collins Syndrome (TCS). August’s experience is atypical to the average person with TCS, especially since many would not be able to afford even half the number of procedures he went through. Even his school experience doesn’t reflect the average person living with TCS since August was able to go to a private school instead of a public one. Although fictional and still powerful in its own right, Wonder doesn’t reflect the true experiences felt by people and families suffering from TCS. In a way, this film sugar-coats what families truly have to endure just so the film doesn’t become too bleak.