Clone Wars, Eminem, and Wonder (2017)

Wonder (2017)

Hal: Following his successful adaptation of his own celebrated coming of age story The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky returned to directing to adapt another bestseller, Raquel Jaramillo Palacio’s Wonder (2017). Perks of Being a Wallflower had an undeniably sentimental streak, which is perhaps more in evidence here with a middle-brow, saccharine tone, however, as with the Perks adaptation, Wonder is carried by the consistently superb performances that ensure it never feels maudlin, exploitative or cynical.

The film principally follows Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), a ten year old boy from an upper-middle class family, who has Treacher Collins syndrome and was left scarred by lifesaving medical procedures, emerging from home schooling into the wider world of middle school, where he faces rejection, bullying and the vagaries of friendship familiar to all middle schoolers. The story is broken up into chapters though and although Auggie is the consistent lynchpin, the film branches off into exploring the perspectives of other characters in the story: his parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson), his friends (Noah Jupe), his sister (Izabela Vidovic) and her best friend (Danielle Rose Russell).

All these roles are perfectly played by the ensemble cast, which also includes the magnificent Sonia Braga, and in the roles of Auggie’s kindly teachers, Mandy Patinkin and Daveed Diggs, who I think might be able to lay claim to the ‘most versatile performance artist of the decade’ award. The standout member of the cast though was probably Izabela Vidovic, whose supportive role becomes the unexpected heart of the film, and whose in-character onstage performance is genuinely tear-jerking. The weakest of these supporting narratives is probably the one of Miranda, the sister’s best friend, which was both a little far-fetched and a little anticlimactic. In the earlier stages I was expecting, and indeed hoping, that it was building to a plot that would provide some queer representation, but it never did. The film is also saddled with a little coda that didn’t feel necessary and did seem a bit contrived and mawkish.

One piece of casting I do have reservations about though is Jacob Tremblay as Auggie. Tremblay is a phenomenally mature young talent. His performance in Room is one of the best I’ve ever seen from a child actor, and although he’s occasionally pushed into precocious kid mode by this film, he does give a superb performance, no question. I just wish the role could have actually gone to a child with the facial deformities his character displays, rather than a healthy child in makeup. If this film is to be believed, apparently a child with Treacher Collins syndrome can do anything a healthy child can do, except play a child with Treacher Collins’ syndrome in a film. That needs to be done by an established star in makeup. I don’t always take an especially hard-line stance on this type of thing, and I really do think Tremblay gives a fantastic performance here. I just think it really does undermine the film’s message and makes a film that operates on sincerity feel a lot less sincere, and I’m focusing on it so much here because it’s about the only thing I think this film really did get wrong. The makeup on him is good, and was Academy Award nominated, giving him somewhat puppyish eyes, and recreating not so much a typical case of Treacher Collins, and rather one post huge amounts of surgery, which only a family as wealthy as the one in this film could afford (Roberts is a stay at home mum working on her masters thesis and I don’t think we ever found out what Wilson’s job was, my guess is insider trading given everything his single-income household is apparently able to afford).

Written by TV Obsessive

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