The 400-Word Review: Wonder
By Sean Collier
November 15, 2017
It is difficult to be harsh on a movie as well-intentioned as Wonder. This is a movie that fervently hopes you watch it and smile and take its simple, small message — choose to be kind — to heart. Just a little movie hoping to succeed, that’s all!
And yet: It is a very bad movie.
It’s not merely that it is saccharine and cloying. Anyone who had brushed up against one of the trailers — or the poster, or the advertisements, or the Snapchat filters, or any other arm in a marketing blitz a bit more aggressive than the film’s gentle tone — could tell you this movie was going to be cloying and saccharine. It is rather that Wonder absolutely demands that you surrender to its insistent sentimentality. How could you not love these characters? What kind of unkind monster would you be to deny them?
It’s okay: Deny them.
Based on the book of the same name by R.J. Palacio, Wonder is the (fictional) story of a charming young lad (Jacob Tremblay) who suffered facial deformities as the result of birth defects. After a decade of home schooling, his impossibly perfect and patient parents — played by Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts, who endure a veritable orgy of schmaltz with their roles — have decided he needs to begin socializing more properly, sending him to a refined private school.
All is not well; while some of the students are (far more) kind (than is even vaguely plausible), a rich-kid bully taunts our hero, and his new best friend has difficulty navigating the friendship.
There are nominal moments of conflict here and there, but Wonder is hardly concerned with them; the movie is entirely wrapped around its hero’s boldness and heart, which are never in doubt.
Director/co-writer Stephen Chbosky attempts to draw out the family’s stories in a bit more detail; a subplot involving sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) and her estranged friend connects in moments but is repeatedly sidelined (in a narrative thread that might’ve been interesting to pull, but Wonder has no time for complexity).
And while Tremblay, who charmed in Room, remains a supremely gifted young actor, Wonder is also a movie which chooses to coat its lead performer in makeup rather than cast a performer who has actually lived through the challenges depicted. If only Wonder had as much courage as its protagonist.
My Rating: 3/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark