Film Review – Wonder

If Wonder proves anything, it proves that having a Star Wars obsessed protagonist is no guarantee that I will give a film a free pass. Having been told that Wonder would make me laugh and cry, I can inform you that I neither laughed nor cried. Instead for most of the running time of this saccharine laden disfigurement weepie, I flitted between irritation and apathy.

Based on the novel by RJ Palacio, this story of a disfigured ten year old boy going to school for the first time has obvious heartstring tug potential. But although it has its heart in the right place, Wonder has the depth of one of those ghastly inspirational memes. Early in the film a teacher started asking the class about precepts they each lived by, and one character said “always choose being kind over being right”. At which point, I pretty much lost the will to live. As Alan Ruck’s character said in Speed: “It’s alright. If you need to you go right ahead and vomit.”

This kind of reductive superficiality continues throughout much of the rest of the film, with nothing of substance beyond the usual cliché messages about being beautiful on the inside. Attempts at showing everyone’s point of view (even the bullies), feel preachy rather than nuanced, despite good intentions. By the time the manipulative and predictable finale is reached, replete with trite “everyone is special” platitudes, I began to wonder if the plot had been mapped out by the same kind of committees that give out participation trophies. As Dash says in The Incredibles, when responding to his mother telling him “everyone is special”, “That’s another way of saying no-one is”.

I suppose the film is competently directed (by Stephen Chbosky) and well-acted by all concerned. Jacob Tremblay is fine as the young, but rather too-good-to-be-true lead character, Auggie. Some of the other child actors are good, and it’s always nice to see Owen Wilson and particularly Julia Roberts. Heck even Mandy Patinkin (aka Saul from Homeland) crops up at a couple of points, playing the kindly head teacher at the school. The most interesting subplot was that of Auggie’s older teenage sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), who feels constantly overlooked due to her mother’s attention always being on Auggie. But again, that theme isn’t explored in any real depth.

Again, I should stress that this isn’t a terrible film. I didn’t hate it. I was just deeply, deeply indifferent to it. And a little nauseated at times during the inevitable slow-piano moments. I suppose there might be some value in showing it to children to discourage bullying. However, if you really fancy a disfigurement weepie, I suggest checking out the underrated Mask instead, or even better, The Elephant Man. That one did make me cry.

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