The trailers for Wonder suggested a movie that is not my wheelhouse: a treacly Lifetime movie family drama with a perfect martyr child at the center that is exploited for tears and yucks while heavy-handedly educating the masses on his disease du jour. And while an argument can be made that it is a bit of that, it’s also a well-done version, mostly by giving depth and agency to the wealth of supporting characters.
Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) is a young boy living with a facial disease that has left him with a facial deformity. He has been home schooled for the first few years of education, but his parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson, a combination that shouldn’t work but totally does) have pushed him to start fifth-grade at a public school. He has an older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) who is dealing with her own issues in high school, rejected by her best friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). Auggie makes friends, loses friends, deals with bullies, and everything you would expect in a movie like this. The conflict is real, but never too extreme and the movie doesn’t center itself of punishing Auggie until it can save him.
The saving graces of the film though are Via, whose sister is the true heart of the family, constantly sidelined by her little brother’s command for attention, and yet still finding the way to be his hero; and Auggie’s best friend Jack Will (Suburbicon’s Noah Jupe, whose big eyes and charming presence imply a talent well beyond his years). Roberts and Wilson each have their moments, and they are sweet without being cloying. Mandy Patinkin adds some emotional heft as the school’s headmaster.
It’s a feel-good movie, sure, and a lot of energy is spent on begging your indulgence, but by rounding out the characters, having conflict arise out of relationships rather than plot, the movie is far better than I really expected it to be.
My Grade – B