Wonder (2017)

Directed by Stephen Chbosky
Written by Stephen Chbosky and Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne

As an impressionable, and admittedly rather naive, college student, I once had what I thought was a tremendous journalistic idea. I’e always been more of a listener than a talker in my life, which means I am often silently observing those around me and trying to soak in as much as I can. Results vary. So when I was in college, I had this idea that everybody has a story. Every stranger, every friend, every family member. We all have our own perspective and interesting life events that I felt would be well worth telling. Some would be somewhat sad or unfortunate, some would be exciting or fancy, some would be romantic or dramatic, or even comedic. But everybody has a story that would be interesting to tell. So my idea was to see if I could approach random people, other students, faculty, workers, etc, and see if I could get them to tell me their story. It would be a recurring column with a new story every week. Who knows if it ever would have worked.

But in Wonder, second time director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) takes a best-selling novel and adapts its interesting story of perspective. The main character is Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), a lovable but shy little boy entering school for the first time after being home schooled by his mother (Julia Roberts) through 4th grade. Auggie was born with a facial deformity, making social situations awkward at first, but he soon makes friends in his class. Home life is not always what it seems, however, as his older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) copes with being the “other” child as she transitions to life in high school. She has become estranged from her best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), for reasons unknown. We all deal with puzzling social encounters and relationships, but the axiom holds true, “before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.”

Chbosky takes this concept to eh silver screen by telling his story through multiple lens. Not technically, but we get a chance to walk in each of these characters shoes to better understand what they are working through. This turns out to be a very effective tool. Different cuts of this movie from each perspective would net very different results from this finished product. Just following Auggie, we may never forgive his friend Jack Will, or feel sympathy for Via. Told from Via’s perspective, we may never forgive Miranda, or resent all the attention received by Auggie. These are important differences in storytelling, perspective, and the concept of empathy. It’s always important to remember that there are always two sides to every story, and we should consider that before judging, before making an ill-informed decision.

We all struggle to be good people, to be kind. Even the best of us. But deep down, what Chbosky is exploring with this film is the idea that all people are good, all people want to be good, but life and complication in communication often get in the way. Tremblay, who was great in Room, is good here as well. He doesn’t have much to emote, but his energy and passion is electric, making him instantly likable. The rest of the ensemble is good as well, bringing together a cast capable of complimenting each other. This is not a film that will easily wow. It is not a technical marvel, but rather it is a film full of heart and melodrama. Sometimes the sappy, telegraphed emotional story can be effective. Sometimes it can be preachy and overbearing. Chbosky toes that line in this film to perfection, never making the melodrama too much to consume. He does this by crafting a rather earnest and genuine film.

Sure, some may be off put by the “manipulation” of this narrative and its structure. Some will call it overly saccharine. That’s fine. Not every movie is for everybody. And I do have a few gripes with the film, like how easy it is for this family given their social status. This is a completely different movie if the father (Owen Wilson) wasn’t a suit who brought enough money in for them to live in a very nice home in New York City and for Auggie to attend a Prep school, or for the mother to be a stay at home mom who, once Auggie goes off to school, can revisit her thesis from grad school. Those all make this a very convenient story. But again, the heart and sincerity here wins the day, making Wonder a film worth seeing if only to refresh the soul, to refresh your hope in the good in people, and perhaps to help you look inward in order to see the good in yourself. We all lose our way sometimes, but turning an ear to listen, to see life from others’ perspectives can be an invaluable trait as a parent, sibling, child, or friend.

*** – Very Good

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