The new family movie Wonder is written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, the writer/director of the excellent and honest The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Chbosky also wrote the Wallflower novel but Wonder is written by another author and the adaptation is every bit as good.
Wonder is about a 5th grade boy (played by Jacob Tremblay from Room) who was born with a facial defects that have taken many, many surgeries to correct. He is being sent to public school for the first time and the film follows him and the reaction to his still-scarred appearance from other students. But it’s equally as much about his older sister, his parents, and his friends.
This is a great movie that is believable and honest. Its writing is smart and it treats all the characters with care. The movie is about the boy but all the characters are allowed to be people and not just characters in the boy’s story. My favorite example is the principal (played by Mandy Patinkin) who only has a few scenes but they give him room to create a unique character who is more than his dialog (credit to the actor but presumably the script too). Hard to explain since I don’t want to give away all the character beats and plots.
The film also stars Julia Roberts and Own Wilson as the boy’s parents. Roberts reminds us – and it seems like it’s been too long – how luminous and warm she can be an actor. Wilson gets some good emotional beats as well but really we want to spend time with mom (even if dad is a self-professed cool dad). The boy’s sister is believably and quietly played by Izabela Vivodic from tv’s The Fosters… a show I don’t watch but she really impressed. The other kid actors are all really strong so it’s not just little Academy Award nominated Tremblay ruling the school.
I found this movie joyous and honest. It earns legitimate tears (not that I did, it was just dusty in the theaters) from small things as well as big tragedies. But it wasn’t maudlin – every emotional beat felt earned and not cheap. That is, except for the end scene where I thought it went too hard on the cheap, obvious touching moment. There was a better direction it could have gone that involved the kid’s friends… but they didn’t pay me to write the movie so….
So, yeah, this is really smart and powerful family movie that adults can enjoy just as much as their kids. It has a good message about acceptance but also about how everyone has their own priorities and problems. Take your kids or take yourself – it’s a cool movie full of earned heart.