Wonder Review


When I went to see Steven Chobsky’s new film, Wonder, I brought with me memories of an earlier film which had moved me a kid.

Peter Bogdanovich’s 1985 film Mask told the story of Roy ‘Rocky’ Dennis, an American teenager suffering with craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, a rare physical disorder which causes cranial enlargements.

As it turns out, Chobsky’s film is very different from Bogdanovich’s despite dealing with some similar themes.

But that isn’t to say the newer film is without merits.

Wonder tells the story of August ‘Auggie’ Pullman, an American fifth grader who seems like your standard kid: he rides his bike, he bickers with his big sister and he loves Star Wars.

Auggie also happens to suffer from a rare and unnamed physical disorder, unnamed but possibly Treacher Collins syndrome.

The film charts a year in Auggie’s life; specifically, the first academic year for the hitherto home-schooled Auggie.

Auggie’s parents (played by Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson), though of mixed opinion about how Auggie will cope at school, decide to enrol him in Beecher Prep, a private school, in advance of starting middle school. Auggie, preferring to spend most of his days sporting a face-obscuring space helmet, confesses that he is terrified at the prospect.

Prior to the first day of term, Auggie and his mother meet with Principal Tushman, who has selected three kids to show Auggie around the empty school. Charlotte and Jack are friendly to Auggie in their own ways, but the third child, Julian, a rich-kid bully, is a right wrong ‘un and you can’t help but fear that his meanness to Auggie foreshadows unpleasantness to come.

The film then follows Auggie, his family and his friends as they all navigate Auggie’s new, wider world.

Chobsky’s last directorial outing was Perks of Being a Wallflower which, I must admit, did not quite grab me. His latest film is an unapologetically, unashamed tear jerker, and I’ll have to admit: my tears were jerked.

That sounds weird.

True, the acting amongst some of the younger, supporting members of cast is dodgy at times, and there are a few false endings, but overall the film sets out to tug on our heartstrings in a very cinematic way and achieves its goal.

It is also a nice touch that the film is loosely divided into segments to explore various seemingly-secondary characters including Auggie’s new friend Jack, as well as Auggie’s sister and her friend, which gives the whole enterprise some depth and reiterates the message that things are not always as they look.

One thing which did admittedly surprise me and maybe affect my take on it, is that the film is not based on a true story, but rather a novel by R J Palacio (Raquel Jaramillo). Hence the real-life story of Rocky Dennis, from a tougher background than the fictional Auggie, may have moved me more and was more harrowing in comparison.

This is not to say of course that this film does not make valid points and raise awareness of the issues faced by children who are in the same situation as Auggie.

Chobsky’s pushes all the buttons it aims to push and may ultimately present the world in a more idealised way than it truly is, but, with everything going on at the moment, is that really a bad thing?

Conor Brennan

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November 2017