Wonder movie cast: Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Izabela Vidovic, Noah Jupe, Mandy Patinkin, Bryce Gheisar
Wonder movie director: Stephen Chbosky
Wonder movie rating: 4 stars
“My name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” When Auggie Pullman wondered aloud thus in the 2012 bestseller book Wonder, somewhere in our heart we were grateful we were not called upon to do that: ‘look’.
The film Wonder demands we do this, and then, almost unbelievably, just as the book sometimes too earnestly underlined, it holds our gaze. Before our eyes, the 10-year-old boy whose face after “27 surgeries” looks like “mush”, who required several operations to be able to breathe, eat and hear, whose eyes hang down haphazardly like tears on his face and who struggles to eat, becomes just “ordinary”.
And you are just grateful for that. For, in any lesser hands, in any less-caring hands, the film could easily have become either too exploitative or too maudlin. Instead, Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), the co-screenwriter of Wonder, just gets what the book is about. About being different, about setting your child out in the world, about watching hearts-in-the-mouth as they fight their battles, about being a family, about not holding back on love and, above all, about that often-undermined virtue: kindness. We put that book down assured that Auggie would be alright on the strength of all of the above. And, if he could be, so perhaps were we.
Chbosky achieves this by not falling to the temptation of focusing the film on Auggie’s travails, but like author R J Palacio did, telling his story from his as well as the eyes of other youngsters around him. He is fortunate in his star cast, especially young Jacob Tremblay (of Oscar-winner Room), who conveys Auggie’s little-boy fears and hopes, tears and smiles, despite that face, and Julia Roberts as Auggie’s mother Isabel. Luminous and tremulous, loving and stern, brave and nervous, Roberts is heartbreaking in how she watches Auggie go.
Wilson has much lesser to do as Auggie’s father Nate, but the warm and amiable actor fits in as second fiddle nicely. Vidovic plays Auggie’s understanding sister Via, who has got used to not ever being the centre of her parents’ attention. The film doesn’t let that be a given, and goes about nicely capturing her dilemma and insecurities as a teenager. Noah is the other crucial youngster of the film as the first friend, Jake, that Auggie makes. Again, Chbosky is fortunate in getting an actor who can be so dignified at such a small age.
Like in the book, Auggie’s problems, including cruel bullying by classmate Julian (Gheisar), resolve themselves almost too easily. But sometimes, it is soothing to believe that it can be as easy as that.
Mr Browne, the teacher of Auggie’s class, tells them, “Given the choice between being right and being kind, be kind”. The book itself set off an anti-bullying movement in the US. Here in the film, as Mr Browne’s 10-year-olds find it within their hearts to reach out to Auggie, without too much trying, you are reminded of another advice. This time from headmaster Mr Tushman (Patinkin): “Auggie can’t change the way he looks. Maybe we can change the way we see.”
And we do. And, as Auggie wished, we don’t look away.