Part of me is concerned that I’m perhaps overrating Stephen Chbosky’s Wonder simply for the fact that no muscle-bound, cape-wearing superheroes are around to save the day in all their CGI glory. It’s a sad state of affairs when simply not being a comic book movie will massage a film’s quality. But that’s movies in 2017. But I also think that this is perhaps giving Wonder short shrift, since it is, after all, a solid, well-intentioned little movie that could have devolved into manipulative schmaltz but manages to skirt such an unfortunate fate.
Based on R.J. Palacio’s best-selling middle-grade novel of the same name, the film is little more than an anti-bullying picture. Following Auggie (Jacob Tremblay, Room), the movie shows the way children — and adults — can be standoffish and even cruel to someone who simply looks different from everyone else. Auggie, born with various facial differences that led to him having numerous surgeries throughout his childhood, now finds himself entering public school for the first time as a 10-year-old. And what he discovers is a world that’s not as welcoming and supportive as the one his parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) had already built for him.
What makes Wonder work is how honest it feels about its task, never going the route of pushing buttons for maximum emotion. And it’s quite obvious to tell where the movie will go, as Auggie gradually wins over his classmates. There’s something inherently tender and gentle — and charming, too — about the world Chbosky’s film inhabits. Much like his The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) — which was based on his own YA novel of the same name — Chbosky understands how difficult growing up can be, while also understanding that everyone’s trying to figure things out. It’s a movie that’s very casually human in that way.
Though, while I gravitate toward Wonder‘s gentleness, I can’t really say the movie as a whole really wowed me. It’s one of those cases where I can see all the good in a film but not really connect with it on any other level. It is, after all, not a movie made for me. And not every movie needs to be made for me, of course. This is a movie made for people much younger than I who are at an age where learning kindness and acceptance is needed, and it’s constructed very simply for this very purpose. It’s all very workmanlike and straightforward, something that makes Wonder not very exciting but doesn’t distract from its very modest aims. Rated PG for thematic elements including bullying, and some mild language. Now playing at AMC Classic River Hills, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.