Release Date: November 17, 2017
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Runtime: 113 Minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
If I were one of the parents of budding film talent Jacob Tremblay, I would promptly fire his agent for wasting Tremblay’s “transformative makeup job” role so early in his career and on such unchallenging fluff like Wonder, the latest from The Perks of Being a Wallflower writer/director Stephen Chbosky.
As examples like Monster, The Elephant Man, Ed Wood and Foxcatcher have made truth, hours in the makeup chair to fully, physically become the role you play is a bold career move that signals to the Academy you earned your statue, or at least a nomination. Tremblay – who two years previous delivered what, for many actors, would be a performance of a career with the equally weepy family drama Room – remains with little depth to work with outside of the plastic deformities glued to his face to simulate Treacher Collins syndrome.
As your standard “it’s what on the inside that counts” fable, where the inner wonder of Tremblay’s character (Auggie) both inspires his family and friends to aspire to greater heights and to see him as just an ordinary kid, the drama comes light, winsome and highly telegraphed, making me certain that the hours young Tremblay spent in the makeup chair ain’t paying off dividends this awards season.
This is not to say Wonder, outside of its physically altered star, is not without its moments; they just come in a decidedly mixed bag that pits its conventions against its admirable experimentations. First, while its lessons and morals are as traditional as you can get when dealing with a storyline about being physically different from the norm, Wonder explores this in a multi-faceted way, which unseats Auggie as the main focal point and bounces between the people in his life to whom he elicits changes over the course of the film.
The sister, Olivia (Izabela Vidovic), aptly explains that Auggie is the “sun we all revolve around,” not only to continue a running space motif that is delightfully whimsical but also to tell us we get to see that influence he has from others’ perspectives. It’s not breaking the mold with what it espouses, but allowing the narrative to break from Auggie and fill out the cast with more developed side characters means Wonder has a leg up on most of its children’s-novel-inspired competition.
Not only are we allotted time with Auggie, whose assimilation to public middle school is not without its hitches, but we also follow the lives of sister, ‘Via;’ her changing friends and new romance; Jack, Auggie’s one friend who betrays his trust; and the parent team of Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson, who wonderfully autopilots through dad jokes in a surprisingly down-to-earth, likeable role. It’s this very network that Wonder skillfully sets up around its simple lessons that gives it all much more dimension. It’s not just the one “you’re beautiful on the inside” take, stretched out uncomfortably into a two-hour, very-special episode; the breaking up of the story among a competent cast gives Wonder more to work with beyond superficial good intentions.
This does not mean, of course, that the execution is any better for the experiment because, despite multiple perspectives, Wonder really suffers from a third act dragging itself out. No doubt due to how easily surmountable the obstacles are for these characters in this featherweight drama, the story at times feels desperate to inject some conflict where there is none. A notably sudden tragedy for the family in the third act (which amounts to nothing) comes to mind, but the brevity of the more melodramatic moments in the script maybe points to the multi-perspective structure robbing Wonder of some of its potential impact.
Auggie and Jack resolve their friendship by messaging each other in Minecraft of all methods; the big, bad bully apologizes, despite his actions going far beyond that simple solution; and Olivia finds purpose outside of her brother by joining a school club. While it changes the pace, the story breakup leaves little time left to develop these moments, and the film just sputters to an agreeable, safe ending – well, three endings. Those multiple arcs mean multiple conclusions rapid fire at you in a bloated showcase of schmaltzy, tear-jerking, feel-good highs, but like I said Wonder is a mixed bag.
It’s intentions are undeniably good, and it’s so inoffensive that even the most jaded soul could crack a smile at its whimsical airs. It even has clipping. frontman and Tony Award winner Daveed Diggs in a (sadly limited) side role as a teacher at Auggie’s school, which – if you’ve heard clipping. before – you’ll find that his inclusion in such a soft-edged kids’ film as ironically funny as I did. Tremblay may have spent his one heavy makeup role on light fare like this, but there are always films less deserving of that kind of time commitment for an up-and-coming actor. “Paging Oscar Isaac in X-Men Apocalypse.”