Director: Stephen Chbosky
Screenplay: Jack Thorne, Steve Conrad, Stephen Chbosky
Starring: Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay, Mandy Patinkin, Daveed Diggs
Runtime: 113 Minutes
Wonder is an adaptation of the 2012 novel of the same name by R. J. Palacio, centred on a young fifth-grade boy named August "Auggie" Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) who suffers from Treacher Collins syndrome and has trouble fitting in with school life because of his disfigured appearance. Supported by his parents, played by Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson, and sister Olivia (Izabela Vidovic) he faces challenges making friends and facing bullies in a story designed to pull at the heartstrings and see the good in people when they can accept you for who you are.
That’s the extent of the story that is being told here; a year in the life of young Auggie as he settles into a new routine outside of his home-schooling and his gradual integration into a society that he will forever stand out from – although that doesn’t have to be a weakness if he chooses to take it in his stride.
It's sweet and good-natured enough, with an excellent performance from Jacob Tremblay as the anxious and emotionally troubled child at the centre, and some decent performing roles from a haggard and sincere Wilson and Robert’s in a mode she hasn’t really owned since the 90s – though it’s the kind of role she owns rather well.
The sad state of the film is the downside though, in that it's an overall rather unmemorable experience as well as a confusing one to watch play out. It feels more like a collection of scenes and conflicts playing out one after the other at times (often repeating themselves), which isn’t helped by an awful structure that staggers itself across different characters for other perspectives, such as Olivia’s own home and friendship struggles and a late fleshing out of the main bully figure who picks on Auggie.
It might work as a concept, and certainly offers a balanced – if watered-down – approach to the characters, but it’s a narrative trick the film can’t quite pull off because of director Stephen Chbosky’s limited way of telling it. The screenplay is a shared mess between three names, but if Chbosky had been able to reign in or narrow the material a little more this probably wouldn’t be an issue, and is overall a considerably weaker effort than his previous film and adaptation, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Wonder isn’t a poor movie or story, its emotions are too resonant and performances too good to allow it to fail without putting up a fight, but it’s disappointingly messy structure and direction lets it down and makes it feel cheaper and more manipulative because of it.