There has never been a better time to recommend Wonder (2017). It’s a beautiful movie, and Stephen Chbosky was a perfect choice to direct and co-write it. The author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, who directed his own screen adaptation, isn’t afraid of honest emotion. What’s more, he is clearly in touch with his younger self. That alone would make him a candidate to translate R.J. Palacio’s best-selling young-adult novel to film. Wonder is a tearjerker that earns our tears by drawing us into its world and giving us a deep connection to its leading characters.
Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) has had 27 operations by the time we meet him, at the age of 10. He suffers from craniofacial syndrome, which causes everyone who sees him to stare—in horror, disbelief, or in some cases pity. He knows this all too well, so when his mother, who has tutored him at home, sends him off to middle school he is understandably terrified.
Like the book, the movie benefits from exploring several points of view, not just Auggie’s. By passing the first-person narration to his newfound schoolmate, his older sister Via (newcomer Izabela Vidovic), and her former best friend, we develop empathy for each one of them—as individuals and as they relate to Auggie.
Wonder is an invigorating, upbeat film, which comes as a genuine surprise. Auggie has a disarming sense of humor and so do his parents, played in heartfelt fashion by Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. The comedic moments in the movie arise organically out of situations and relationships. I’m not sure how Chbosky pulled this off but I never felt manipulated, even as my eyes were welling up with tears.
But the real wonder is the movie’s youthful star, Jacob Tremblay, who made such a strong impression in Room when he was only six years old. He gives a completely natural, un-self-conscious performance that runs a wide gamut of emotions without ever hitting a false note. He is an old soul who happens to be a child and is, by any measure, a gifted actor.
Stephen Chbosky shares writing credit with Jack Thorne and Steven Conrad. As a guest in my USC class, he revealed that they—and two other uncredited scribes—added great ideas to the film, as did author Palacio, who was deeply involved in the production. She suggested casting Mandy Patinkin as the compassionate school principal and Sonia Braga, of all people, in a meaningful one-scene role as Via’s grandmother. Chbosky told my class that all the actors said yes because they responded so strongly to the material.
So did I. The slogan “choose kind” is not just a tagline; it’s a byword for our times and I wish more movies would preach that message. I’ll conclude by repeating what I said at the top of my review: Wonder is a beautiful movie.