SPOILER ALERT: I will discuss aspects of the film's plot and characters, so I encourage you to see the film before reading this review. Then come back and join the discussion!
Wonder has to be one of the best family dramas I've seen in recent years. It is well-written, and the acting is fantastic - especially Julia Roberts' supporting turn as Isabel, the mother of main character Auggie (Jacob Tremblay). And there are a wealth of wonderful themes for children to be exposed to - chief of those may be the wonder at the beauty in the people around us.
August (Auggie) Pullman is about to go to real school for the first time. This is a nervous time for any kid - but it is even more so for Auggie. He was born with a facial defect that necessitated homeschooling to this point. But now, he and his family are taking the plunge.
The movie's script (adapted by Stephen Chobsky, Steven Conrad and Jack Thorne from a novel by R.J. Palacio) does a fantastic job of highlighting how the common fears of school and meeting new people are exacerbated by Auggie's condition. Along with that, the script's greatest strength is how it showcases that, while Auggie is the one most impacted, his family is affected by his condition as well. There are repercussions that each member of the family must face. This is a nuanced line for the film to take, as you wouldn't want to minimize what Auggie is going through by focusing on the other family members. But I don't think the film ever does that, which is one sign of the strength of its script.
Auggie is incredibly smart - especially when it comes to science. He immediately sets himself apart from the other students (despite the advice from his father - played by Owen Wilson - to only answer one question per class even if he knows the answer to others). There are a few students who warm up to him, including Jack Will (Noah Jupe) who quickly becomes Auggie's best friend at school. But, as we come to find out, these "friends" may not have been 100% authentic with Auggie.
Julia Roberts gives a fully-realized performance as Isabel, deftly navigating the emotional terrain as the family's matriarch. She had dreams of finishing her thesis, but those dreams were put on hold when Auggie was born. Again, the script handles nuance quite well here. We never get the feeling that is a regret that Isabel harbors. It's just something that didn't happen. She loves Auggie with all her heart, and he has become her new dream. Yet, I still felt a great joy when Isabel tells the family that she has come back to her thesis now that Auggie is in school.
But Auggie's experience at school is uneven at best, and it is heartbreaking to see how kids will pick on seemingly weaker ones. Yet, that mindset is not relegated to the schoolyard. We see it in many parts of our culture today. The darker corners of human nature seem to urge the flaunting of power and the brutalization of the marginalized. It is incumbent on each of us to guard against those darker urges and learn to love rather than hate. To care for rather than bully. To empathize rather than brutalize.
Certain of the kids learn that, some in harder ways than others. Like I said, this film has powerful messages of inclusion and considering the viewpoints of others.
One of my favorite viewpoints that is investigated in the film is that of Auggie's sister Via (Izabela Vidovic). She loves her brother dearly and is an incredibly caring big sister. But, as she points out, Auggie is the sun around which their family orbits. It doesn't detract from her love for her brother one iota that she inevitably feels left out at times. Her story arc is maybe the most compelling in the film. Again, I must praise the script her for its adept naviagation of family dynamics.
My only personal quibble with the script is that it also devotes time to Via's friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). Actually, it's not the fact that the script devotes time to her story, it's that it doesn't devote enough time to make her inclusion worthwhile. At various points in the film, we get title cards signifying which character will have the focus for the coming scenes. Miranda gets her own title card, but I never thought her character was fully realized. We gather that she has a special relationship with the family, and she is even the one who gave Auggie his favorite helmet. But for most of the film, she is such an ancillary storyline that I couldn't fully accept her getting her own section near the film's end. I don't think the film can have it both ways - either write her character into more of the plot or don't devote that time to her that could instead be used to focus on the family in more detail.
As it is, that is a minor criticism in what is an intriguing film. Tremblay is quickly becoming a star after his incredible turn in 2015's Room that garnered Brie Larson an Oscar. He handles his role well, as does Vidovic as Via. Wilson is fine in his fatherly role, but it is Roberts who gets the acting headlines for me. She evokes so much emotion in her role, and she navigates it thoughtfully. One other highlight to note is that the film's makeup team will undoubtedly garner an Oscar nomination for their work in bringing Auggie to life on screen.
This film moved me emotionally like few films have in recent memory. It is powerful and thoughtful, and it would make a wonderful family movie night.
Note on content: This film is rated PG for thematic elements including bullying, and some mild language. I don't remember any profanity in the film, so I can only surmise that the mild language refers to the names that other kids repeatedly hurl Auggie's way. There are some scenes of fighting when Auggie and his friends defend themselves at a camp and also at other various points in the film. There is no sexual content, and certainly no nudity. As I said before, this is a film that should be appropriate for most ages and would make a great film for the whole family to watch.