Let’s take a look at a sentimental tear-jerker.
Wonder tells the story of young Auggie (the always impressive Jeffrey Tremblay) who is born with a rare disorder that causes his face to be disfigured. Despite his parents’ numerous attempts at surgeries, Auggie sees himself (and is seen by many others) as a freak. Due to this, his parents, Nate and Isabel (Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts) have homeschooled him up until the fifth grade, and they now think he is ready for public (well, private) school.
Tremblay has impressed me so much in his others roles that I figured this one would be worth seeing, and once again he does excellent work. The young man is quickly becoming one of those actors I can’t help but be amazed by—and while this film is far from perfect, he elevates every scene he is in.
The film looks fine, nothing too obtrusive via camera work will bother you, and the emotional tropes are laid on thick here, which makes getting absorbed somewhat easy. The music pulls the heartstrings at the appropriate moments, and it all works. However, in a way it works too well.
The movie has a strange shine to it that is hard to ignore, and this appears quite quick. Auggie’s older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) appears to be about four or five years older than Auggie, and it is clear that much of the family life centralizes around the disabled child. While this is realistic, and her blooming bitterness is as well, she is simply too well rounded to be believable. At one point she explains to a friend that Auggie won the lottery in reverse, but in a way he won it for real as well. Being born in an upper-class east coast family that has enough money to shelter, love, and care for him with seemingly no financial restraint (he mentions numerous plastic surgeries, most of which would probably not be fully covered by even the best insurance), and the mother is able to put her career on hold to be the best homeschooling teacher imaginable.
Further, everyone in the family loves him unconditionally. Now, I truly believe most parents love their children deeply, but here it is too perfect. Wilson is the funny dad who seems impossible to rattle, and the teenage daughter is more mature than most college graduates. Could this family exist? Sure. However, I don’t see all of these people being together under one household. We even have a forced side-story of Via’s now distant friend Charlotte (Elle McKinnon) who loves Auggie as a brother.
The film is just too nice. Despite the brief turmoil both children face (bullying and isolation for Auggie and isolation and waywardness for Via) it is all wrapped up in a perfect bow—complete with two standing ovations for both children. Hell, even the schoolyard bullies all come to realize that just being a better person is the best way in life.
Yes, the film is sugar-sweet, and yes, it might be good for young people to see narratives where kindness is rewarded. However, I think this is a bit of a false hope for the countless young people are victimized daily by the cruelty of others. Don’t worry, everything will be sorted by summer break—I guess that is the moral of the story.
Perhaps the most obnoxious aspect of the film is how the education world is presented. We have the helicopter-rich-shitbag-parents who claim that their little spawn couldn’t possibly be a bully (despite evidence) and we have the principal stand up to them. Sorry, folks, anyone in education is more likely to run into a principal who will fold like a wet piece of paper in the face of financial threats. Perhaps even worse, I think that literal death threats would get more than a two-day suspension. Hell, with how well-to-do this neighborhood and school seems to be, any threat of violence would cause such a storm there would have to be more of a reaction. (Yes, I realize that I just complained about two seemingly polar things).
For a film, it is fine, and perhaps I am too jaded towards the treatment of disabled (or any different) student to believe that this world can exist. I enjoyed the film well-enough, it is funny when it needs to be and sweet when it can be. The acting is good if not great, and it certainly isn’t a failure. However, the more I think about the more I feel like it is an opiate that completely denies the real world. While it is a fine film, and certainly gives us what we want in these stories, it does not give us what we need. For fans of tearjerkers or other family dramas, it is worth a watch.