2015’s “Room” never reached a wide enough audience to justify a review from me, but if it had, I would have absolutely gushed over the performance of then-7-year-old actor Jacob Tremblay. It was the kind of breakout performance that instantly guarantees an actor a lifetime of work in Hollywood. Brie Larson, who played Tremblay’s mother in the film, won the Academy Award for Best Actress, and I’d argue that he acted circles around her. Not only should he have been nominated for an Oscar, but it should have been for Best Actor and not Best Supporting Actor, for which he was unfairly pushed even though he was definitely the main character and Larson spent a significant amount of time offscreen. “Wonder” is Tremblay’s first big mainstream follow-up movie, and I’m pleased to say it’s worthy of his talents.
Tremblay stars (he’s relegated to third billing, but to me he’s the star) as Auggie Pullman, a boy with a litany of health problems, including facial disfigurement. He’s so different-looking that he usually wears a mask when he goes out in public, his favorite being an astronaut helmet. His mother (Julia Roberts) and father (Owen Wilson) decide that this is the year for Auggie to finally go to school with other children. He’s going to have to learn to navigate the social waters of fifth grade, which is hard enough without a genetic disorder that greatly affects his appearance.
Auggie initially faces ostracism and bullying. The film sadly includes some clichéd examples of both, like nobody sitting with Auggie in the lunchroom and him being singled out for peltings in dodgeball. In my experience, lunchrooms are too crowded for anyone to be able to sit by themselves, and gym teachers monitor activities way too closely for kids to gang up on “weak” players. The film does however get it right that kids will turn on their friends in a second if it makes them look cool in front of the popular kids. It’s also right about the way kids initially handle people that they don’t understand, but I think it’s off about how long it takes them to accept those people. I can see the other kids being uneasy around Auggie on Day 1, but realistically I see them warming up to him on Day 2, not a month later as seen here. Auggie is of course daunted at first and hurt throughout the film, but he has such a big heart and quick wit that eventually he wins everybody over and becomes one of the most popular kids in school.
Even though the film is primarily Auggie’s story, it also takes time to make it clear that he’s not the center of the world. Time is given to develop his sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) and how she handles being marginalized by her parents in favor of her high-maintenance brother. The film even takes a step beyond Via to take a look at her friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) and how she feels so guilty about exploiting Auggie that she can’t bring herself to enjoy Via’s friendship anymore. Elsewhere the film takes a break from Auggie to follow initially-reluctant and eventually-fickle friend Jack Will (Noah Jupe) and bully Julian (Bryce Gheisar).
For adults, “Wonder” is pretty much the uplifting weepie you’d expect it to be. For kids, hopefully it teaches them that everyone is special and everyone deserves love and respect and all the other lessons they’re supposed to learn from a movie like this. In either case, Jacob Tremblay gives a heart-wrenching, outstanding performance, proving that he’s more than just a one-hit “Wonder.”
“Wonder” is rated PG for thematic elements including bullying, and some mild language. Its running time is 113 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.