In the golden age of Hollywood, some films were often described as ‘four-handkerchief-weepies.’ Wonder may qualify as an ‘economy-sized-kleenex-weepie.’ From about fifteen minutes in to its running time I am in a hopeless state, tears pouring copiously down my face and having to make a conscious effort not to sob out loud – and this is a condition that stays with me pretty much throughout proceedings. Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of R.J. Palacio’s best-selling novel launches an all-out attack on the heart strings with devastating results. It’s not that the film is over-manipulative, either. This is just a genuinely sad story, told with great skill, and one that never allows itself to wander too far into the land of mawkishness.
Auggie (Jacob Tremblay, who made such an impact in Room), was born with severe facial deformities. His parents, Isabel (Julia Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson) have been naturally protective of their son, home-schooling him for years, but as he approaches the age to enter fifth grade, Isabel comes to a momentous decision. Auggie needs to go to a proper middle-school, where he at least has a chance to meet new people. He is naturally anxious about this, but eventually accepts his fate and does his best to fit in, painfully aware of the appalled stares of his classmates whenever he enters a room. His life takes a turn for the better when he makes friends with classmate Jack Will (Noah Jupe), but he soon learns that the path of friendship is not always an easy one to negotiate…
Meanwhile, Auggie’s older sister, Via (Isabela Vidovic) goes through some problems of her own, when she loses touch with her long-time best friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). Via’s problems simply don’t get the attention that Auggie’s do, but since the death of her closest ally, her much-beloved Grandmother, she has learned that her best option is just to quietly get on with things. Her parents’ attentions are always focused on her brother and she has nobody else to turn to…
Critics could argue that Wonder is a bit of a misery fest – Auggie’s family seems to lurch from one heartbreaking disaster to the next – but it’s done with such warmth and skill, that it’s easy to forgive its occasional excesses and the film’s conclusion is uplifting enough to make you forget the agony that you’ve just been put through. The performances, meanwhile, are uniformly good. Tremblay manages to emote brilliantly despite having to act under layers of latex and Jupe (who was one of the best things in George Clooney’s Suburbicon), clearly has a bright future ahead of him. Lovely too, to see Mandy Patinkin in a small but memorable role as the schools’ head, Mr Tushman. At the end of the day, if weepies are not your thing, then this may not be the film for you. If on the other hand, you’re partial to shedding the occasional tear in the stalls, fill your pockets with tissues and get along to see this at your earliest convenience.
I leave the cinema feeling absolutely destroyed but as anyone will tell you, I’m a proper softie when it comes to this kind of thing. See it and weep.