With the festive season hot on our heels, Christmas-themed films will be dominating both the silver and small screens. It’s often a time where little cinematic gems can sometimes go unnoticed, one of those particular films releasing this Holiday Season that may do just that is Stephen Chbosky’s Wonder. But, I’ll tell you this, it’s a wonder of a film to seek out.
Based on the acclaimed novel from author R.J Palacio, Wonder tells the story of the young boy August Pullman (Jacob Tremblay). He has facial differences due to a life of surgeries, and is about to enter fifth-grade: his first time attending a normal school, having been home-schooled by his Mum (Julia Roberts) up until this point. Of course, that comes with its own set of problems and this film follows not only Auggie’s struggle with this, but his family’s too – as they all go through their own problems, including his Dad (Owen Wilson) and older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic).
Wonder is many things: it’s a story about friendship; about accepting yourself and accepting others. It’s a loving look at childhood, but, at its core, this is a story about family. And it’s in this where the film is really in its element: the familial conflicts and dynamics between the Pullmans are so viscerally raw and authentic, not to mention relatable. The screenplay does a very good job at setting up its characters and various narrative arcs, lauded with patient yet purposeful care and nuance. We care for this family, and watching them go about their lives and problems is utterly riveting here. Yes, this is a due to a screenplay that is sharp and has its finger on the pulse; but it’s also the result of a stellar cast that are thoroughly believable and brilliant in their roles. The chemistry between this on-screen family is palpable, and the history and weight of their familial dynamics are delivered with conviction as a result. Everyone from Wilson to Roberts, even Vidovic and, most especially, Tremblay are subliminal.
However, be warned, you will need a pack of tissues… or ten, because this film is emotional. Not only is it dealing with such delicate subject matter, but it does so in a way that is honest and heart-breaking. It’s so sincere and beautiful too, that you’ll find the tears you shed (of which there will be many) to be not only tears of sadness, but of joy and laughter too. Wonder really knocks it out of the park on an emotional plane, hitting some high points early on but managing to maintain that level of heart and beauty throughout. Again, this is a testament to the genius screenplay here, as well as Chboksy’s masterful direction: able to so seamlessly and effortlessly juggle so many different tones and pull every single one of them off with such aplomb and vigorous effect. As good as it is, however, Wonder is far from flawless and has the tendency to meander around aimlessly at parts – especially in the third act – which can really make it drag quite a bit. Also, for a film so grounded in reality, there is the occasional puff piece moment where it glosses over some concepts and feels a little “Hollywood-ised” and “cinematic” in a couple of the decisions that are made here and there.
This doesn’t take away from the fact that Wonder is a very surprising film, and a family film with such raw emotion and heart. It’s charming, it’s funny, it’s emotional, and it really will hit you in the feels. Simply put: it is a wonder. And one that will leave you with a big smile on your face and perhaps even a little tear in your eye. But we won’t tell anyone now, will we?