Director: Stephen Chbosky
Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Daveed Diggs, Owen Wilson, Mandy Patinkin, Izabela Vidovic
Running Time: 112 mins
Release Date: 01/12/2017
“If given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind”, Stephen Chbosky’s new offering WONDER proclaims throughout: a warning perhaps to anyone tempted to be sarky about this particular tale of a young boy with a cranio- facial disfiguration navigating his first year of middle school. Based on R. J Palacio’s novel of the same name, Auggie Pullman (ROOM’s JACOB TREMBLAY) is a 10 year old boy who has been living in a generally happy bubble with his family (JULIA ROBERTS, OWEN WILSON, IZABELA VIDOVIC)- a bubble that seems on the cusp of bursting the moment he swaps home-school for a real American middle school.
Auggie’s new stomping ground is predictably stuffed with all the usual characters found in cinematic depictions of the US school system: there is the hip young school teacher, the out-and-out bully flanked by his cronies, and MANDY PATINKIN as the wise, kind-hearted headmaster. Cliché perhaps, but Patinkin is a perfect choice for headmaster and the young cast excel, despite the occasionally clunky dialogue . Most sentences begin and/or end with “dude!” which feels as though it’s been relentlessly shoe-horned in (and on the off chance this is actually how pre-teens talk then someone ought to have exercised their movie-making right to fiddle with the truth because it’s deeply irritating). Still, all the young actors are very winning- with special mention going to ELLE MCKINNON’s precocious child star character whose delivery of every line had me and rest of the cinema roaring with laughter.
It should be no surprise to anyone who saw 2015’s ROOM that JACOB TREMBLAY is excellent- even under heavy prosthetics he gives a sensitive and assured performance and reveals some comic chops. JULIA ROBERTS and OWEN WILSON aren’t given a great deal of screen-time- this is very much a movie centred around its young cast and all the better for it- but they are charming and watchable as always.
Valiant attempts are made at fleshing out the supporting characters too; just like in the book, they are given their own chapters and we hear their voiceover narrating the action instead of Auggie’s. His sister Via’s section is interesting- we see her utter adoration of her little brother juxtaposed with the uncomfortable jealousy of him receiving the bulk of their parents’ attention. Whilst Auggie struggles with standing out from the crowd, Via feels the weight of being largely overlooked. However, the supporting character ‘chapters’ never fully close: the voiceover tails off in every case and reverts to Auggie, never to be picked up again. I liked the idea of seeing each character’s take- and clearly so did the writers at some point- but it appears they lost enthusiasm for these different perspectives and cut them short once their interest waned.
At 113 minutes the film is a tad too long and doesn’t explore everything it sets out to but if you ever needed conclusive proof that casting directors ought to be recognised at awards ceremonies, this is it. Every single actor delivers and turns what could have been basic, manipulative schmaltz into a film with real heart, warmth, and compassion. If it’s a choice between being right and being kind then I choose to be a bit of both in giving it a solid three stars out of five.