Review: Wonder

PLOT: A kind-hearted 10-year-old boy with a facial deformity must enter school for the first time, which will change not only his life but the lives of those closest to him.

REVIEW: WONDER is a movie that will either work for you in a big way or not at all. It's really that simple. Some will find its story completely manipulative and saccharine, while others will be powerless to stop themselves from getting caught up in its tear-jerking web. I'm surprised to find myself in the latter group. I would have assumed with absolute certainty that WONDER's utter shamelessness would repel me, as weepies of this nature are generally not my cup of tea. But as directed by Stephen Chbosky, the movie somehow avoids being overly sappy and manages to intelligently relay its message of the importance of understanding and compassion. Only a bitter cynic could turn their back on such a noble cause.

Based on the bestseller by R.J. Palacio, WONDER tells the story of Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a smart 10-year-old who has mostly lived life in a bubble thanks to a facial deformity he usually hides with an astronaut's helmet. Auggie's support system at home is great, with overly attentive parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) and a wise teenaged sister (Izabela Vidovic), but his life is about the have a major shake-up when his folks decide now is the time for him to go to a real school. Auggie is no dummy, and neither are mom and dad: everyone knows Auggie is in for a potentially hellish experience when he enters the battleground that is elementary school, but the feeling is, if not now, when? Is there any better preparation for the rigors of real life than school?

Wonder movie review Jacob Tremblay Julia Roberts Owen Wilson

Auggie's navigating of the 5th grade is the core of the story, as he experiences both the expected bouts of bullying and the unexpected generosity of a handful of students who see past the exterior and into his gentle heart. The most clever stroke in WONDER's narrative is to not make Auggie the sole focus, but to also expand into those in Auggie's orbit, including his sister, his new best friend Jack (Noah Jupe) and his sister's former best friend (Danielle Rose Russell). Getting into their heads, and how their relationships to Auggie affect and alter the trajectories of their own lives, is an astute move, and keeps the film moving at a nimble pace.

Somehow, someway, Chbosky avoids making WONDER a mawkish mess, which it easily could have been if not so deftly executed. There's a joyfulness about the movie that is undeniable, and even when the material turns dark or sad, it bounces right back and celebrates the idea that empathy can trump intolerance in anybody's heart. It may sound corny, but WONDER's overall optimistic attitude about the basic goodness of people is really uplifting, even if we don't believe it applies in real life. It helps that the film is visually very appealing, with several amusing touches and surprise cameos lighting up the screen.

Wonder movie review Jacob Tremblay Julia Roberts Owen Wilson

Key to the film's success is the cast Chbosky has assembled, a nearly perfect ensemble. Tremblay is splendid, giving a fully lived-in performance even underneath the prosthetics; there's so much compassion in his face and voice that it's impossible not to be moved by him. Roberts and Wilson generate considerable chemistry as Auggie's parents, who aren't just one-note characters but interesting people with a unique situation on their hands. Vidovic's character is just as complex as Tremblay's, as Auggie's sister Via wrestles with her jealousy toward Auggie (naturally, the parents dote on him completely), and her own problems with friends at school. Daveed Diggs and Mandy Patinkin lend solid support as Auggie's good-natured teacher and kind principal, respectively.

Certainly, the movie is capable of being overly mushy, with a handful of gratuitous moments that will make your eyes naturally roll. With material this sentimental, that's bound to happen. But I can't help but give WONDER major kudos for mostly avoiding the pitfalls one would expect it to fall in, instead delivering a tale that is genuinely heartfelt and touching.

Review: Wonder




About the Author

Eric Walkuski is a longtime writer, critic, and reporter for He's been a contributor for over 15 years, having written dozens of reviews and hundreds of news articles for the site. In addition, he's conducted almost 100 interviews as JoBlo's New York correspondent.