‘Wonder’ Review: Auggie Is Truly Contagious
“People don’t like to touch me because they think I’m contagious,” says little Auggie in one of the many heartbreaking moments of Wonder. August Pullman aka Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) is a boy who came to this world with facial deformity, and multiple plastic surgeries could hardly do any good.
After years of home schooling, he has geared up to enter regular school, doing away with the astronaut mask that hid his face from common sight, and saved him from a mouthful of slurs. Now he has to face crowds parting like the Red Sea, and faces that snigger at the sight of him.
On the surface, Wonder is essentially the kind of movie that makes cynics roll their eyes. Really, another mawkish weepie about an underdog battling all odds to emerge as a winner. Yes, Wonder is a tearjerker, but it operates outside the confines of conservative wisdom, and elevates itself with an aura that’s lit up by empathy and wit.
Adapting RJ Palacio’s novel of the same name, director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) curates a garden of characters who would otherwise be oblivious to our eyes. Instead of taking the road of a conformist and making it entirely about Auggie, Chbosky allows us into the world of the players who populate his universe.
We come to know Auggie’s sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) who has constantly been overlooked because her parents’ life revolves around the welfare of their fraught son. The only person who cared about her, the grandma (Sonia Braga) is no more, and her best friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) is suddenly ignoring her post summer camp and streaks of red hair. Turns out, Miranda, too, is struggling with her broken home. Auggie’s first friend in school and his first lesson in trust, Jack’s (the impossibly adorable Noah Jupe) chapter shows us the evolution of a boy who learns to see beyond the obvious.
Except for the class bully, everyone prerogatives a chapter, and offers themselves before our eyes for forgiveness. They have their whys and wherefores, and this narrative gentleness makes Auggie’s struggle all-inclusive, and cajoles us to invest our emotions.
Jacob Tremblay who showed his volcanic potential in the Oscar-winning Room (2015) anchors the film with a winning presence. No outbreak of soliloquies, and nothing sweetish or stagnant. Despite layers of prosthetics, this boy makes the strain of Auggie’s journey very tactile. He laughs a lot, but he can’t hide the overbearing dread, if he controls his face, it slips into his voice. If he manages to control both, his body shows it up. Truly one wonder of a talent.
He is ably supported by Izabela Vidovic, who makes the subplot of Auggies’s sister a charming parable of insecurity and acceptance. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson are delightful as Auggie’s caring parents, and the scene in which Isabel watches her son come out of the school with a friend, Roberts shows her showboating range like she never left us.
Wonder doesn’t have the sharp edge of art-house fascinators like The Elephant Man (1980), and is fully aware of it. The disposition is clear from its lensing, not a single shot calls attention to the staging. This is a film happy with its mainstream status, but it has clear derision for cloying mechanisms.
It works in many ways – a parable for bullying, the struggle of an outsider, or just how goodness resides in all of us. Wonder’s universe of kindness is all-encompassing, telling us the only key we need is that of empathy, to unlock the floodgates of our cautiously concealed vulnerability.
Auggie is right, he is truly contagious. I can’t shake off the compassion Wonder brought me.
(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder)