In a scene in Wonder, the child protagonist Auggie (played by Jacob tremblay), who suffers from a facial deformity, is terribly hurt when he learns of his classmate Julian’s fake show of friendship. The reconciliation between the two millennials, though, doesn’t happen on the playground, but the apology and forgiving takes place in the virtual world of the game of Minecraft. It is a moment that beautifully captures how it is not just the real world in which kids today make friendships. More of such skillfulness and imagination would have made the film far more watchable as it goes on hammering its message of kindness throughout its runtime.
You cannot fault the film for its intentions, though. Wonder is about the 10 year-old Auggie who has to face the big bad world for the very first time, as a facial disfigurement owing to a genetic condition has forced him to get home-schooled. It propagates the noble thought of being kind to people in spite of their appearance. The issue with the film, though, lies in the naïve way in which it goes about spreading its message.
Director Stephen Chbosky’s attempt might be earnest and not very emotionally manipulative, but it suffers majorly from a simplistic worldview. Almost everyone that Auggie meets is essentially good. The teachers in his school are all angelic in nature. Even if someone is being rude and insensitive that person would very soon tap their inner kindness and shower it upon poor Auggie. The conflicts don’t seem like ‘conflicts’ but just simple misunderstandings that are resolved without much trouble. Auggie just doesn’t seem to be going through much of a bad time. Sadly, this naïve outlook defeats the purpose of the film. A boy with a facial deformity like Auggie is going to have it way tougher in the real world. The ‘acceptance’ will not come this easy and fast. It will be a long and hard journey till he feels one with the world. Also, there are bound to be people who would never get around to being nice to him. But Wonder, instead, chooses to be a saccharine-sweet film in which almost everybody is nice.
The screenplay does have an interesting structure wherein the the story is narrated from the perspective of different characters and not just Auggie. But the characters themselves are so clichéd, that the ingenuity of the structure is nullified. Of them, the understanding older sister Via stands out, not least because of Izabela Vidovic’s fine understated performance. The pretty high schooler narrates how she feels neglected as her parents’ (played by Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) world revolves around their ‘Sun’ Auggie. Via’s perspective is complex enough to demand your attention. But the makers seem to have an allergy to complexity of any kind. Via, too, like the rest of the characters, is so good at heart that she doesn’t carry even a bit of bitterness for her brother. Even her other troubles are easily resolved. No sooner does her best friend Miranda gives her the cold shoulder than an unreally sweet boy starts giving her attention. Miranda’s emotional journey from a reserved teenager to a saintly figure who’s ready to sacrifice her own good for Via is so unreal that it evokes unintentional hilarity.
So, despite having the right intentions, the cloud of naivety which hangs over the entire film ultimately proves to be its downfall. In another scene, Auggie cries out in despair to his mother, “I try to pretend that it doesn’t matter that I look different, but it does.” Only if this thread of thought was further delved into and not merely touched upon, the film would have turned out to be lot more believable, honest and insightful.