If the somewhat disappointing box office results of Justice League were good for anyone, it would be a tiny movie from Stephen Chbosky by the name of Wonder. This shouldn’t be a surprise though, I friggen love Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Wonder’s script was also brought to life by Jack Thorne who has a bunch of TV credits to his name, along with Steve Conrad, who wrote The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and The Pursuit of Happyness, so that should give you a rough idea of what sort of a film this is. It sure is worth going out to see, although judging by the $71 million success of this $20 million dollar film and a certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, you’ve probably already got this on your list. If not, get on it.
Wonder manages to tread a very difficult tightrope fairly well. It’s a story about a young boy with a facial deformity, who’s been home-schooled his whole life, daring to step into the world and join a mainstream school as middle school starts (for us in Australia, that’s like year 6ish, America has a different schooling system, so middle school is roughly late primary school to early high school for us). It’s essentially a feel-good, do the right thing, this is how you parent (sometimes this is how you don’t parent), and this is how you accept someone who looks a bit different, movie. That can get a bit tedious, a bit preachy, a bit cheesy, a bit like yes, we get it, I see where you’re going, it’s fine. But Wonder manages to take a few surprising twists and turns along the way, it wobbles on that tightrope between perfection and cheese – but never actually falls off.
The sugar-coating does come on a bit thick, particularly in the last few scenes. It’s a nice message, but they really lay it on your. We get it. It’s a nice movie. It feels good to get recognition for being a good person. Yay. But it doesn’t throw that at you the whole way through. There’s a narrative structure in Wonder which leads you to think maybe you’ll explore not just Auggie, the main character, but also his family – and you do – but it also takes a few twists and turns and explores his friends at school, basically everyone that comes in contact with Auggie, and how he makes their life that little bit better. Although that last sentiment starts to feel remarkably close to laying it on pretty thick again. Wonder has a pretty bad Family Guy “he said it” moment. It’s sort of giving you the feels about a dozen times, but making you roll your eyes half a dozen times in return.
I’m going to mention Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris, Wedding Crashers) and Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman, Erin Brockovich), because they’re in the movie, they’re great in the movie, and they’re all over the trailers and the posters, but they’re not the drawer of this movie. This movie soars on the performances of two young actors – Jacob Tremblay (Room, Before I Wake) and Noah Jupe (Suburbicon, The Night Manager). Both of these guys are absolutely great to watch on screen. They’re interesting, captivating and don’t ever feel fake or over the top, which for such young actors is incredible. Mandy Patinkin (Homeland, The Princess Bride) and Izabela Vidovic (Homefront, The Fosters) round out an exceptional supporting cast, but the remaining kids – that’s where, well, they’re child actors. They’re fine. They’re just not as good as Jacob Tremblay or Noah Jupe.
Wonder makes me curious about two things, purely from a film-making perspective. Not talking about the themes and message themselves, that’s awesome. Firstly, would this have been a better read? It’s based on the New York Times’ best selling novel of the same name, and I can’t help but wonder (sorry, couldn’t help it) if the sappiness can be better monitored in a film, if we don’t have the problem of children actors, and if what Auggie’s face actually looks like was left up to the imagination. Certain films are incredible and can’t be experienced the same way in any other format, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Some films are based of incredible works of prose, but bring to life a world in a way that the books just cant – like The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But Wonder feels to me like it’s a very good advertisement, for what would be a very, very good book. Coming in at 99,200 words, it’ll take an average reader about 6 and a half hours to read. I mean, that’s 2-3 movies. That’s doable. Whether or not I actually do that is a different question.
The second thing I’m curious about, is who this film is for. The novel Wonder is a Young Adult novel, and the film certainly is kid-friendly. But it would come across incredibly preachy to anyone in a school. You’re gonna have them rolling their eyes at you in no time. Parents on the other hand, that’s a really good audience. There’s a couple of stellar parents in Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts here – but one scene in particular gives another couple light, and it’s a masterclass in how NOT to be a mother. Really, parents, this film is right up your alley.
Not quite completely Oscar-baity, not quite for kids or adults, definitely not a blockbuster but 100% a feel-good movie, Wonder is worth catching. Wonder is scheduled for release in Australian cinemas on November 30, 2017.
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