Saturday, May 14, 2022

Wonder (2017)

Note: This review contains spoilers for Wonder (2012).

As part of an effort to read more books, I read the 2012 middle grade novel Wonder by R. J. Palacio and, while not perfect, I found myself hooked. Soon after I finished the book, I felt like watching the 2017 film adaptation from Lionsgate and found a free on-demand listing. As expected, the film takes liberties with the source material to help suit the new medium. However, I still found the adaptation well-crafted and just as worthwhile as the book.

10-year-old August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) was born with a rare medical facial deformity and has had 27 surgeries throughout his life to help him more easily use his senses. After years of homeschooling, his parents, Nate (Owen Wilson) and Isabel (Julia Roberts), decide to enroll him at a private middle school, Beecher Prep, for fifth grade. Although August tries his best to fit in, his deformity makes his attempts more difficult until he makes a friend, Jack Will (Noah Jupe), whose relationship with Auggie goes through its ups and downs during the school year. At the same time, Auggie’s older sister, Olivia (Izabela Vidovic), is having a hard time dealing with the changes in her social life as she starts her first year of high school.

Despite the differences from the original book, the film interpretation of Wonder is still well-written and still carries a very uplifting message about change. Even if you’ve never dealt with Auggie’s condition, the feelings of being treated like an outcast or struggling to adapt to a new environment are highly relatable and help make the story’s themes more universal. The way the child characters behave around Auggie, be it positive or negative, comes off pretty realistic and their diverse backgrounds help paint a good picture of why they act the way they do. For example, it’s implied that Julian (Bryce Gheisar), acts like a bully because he was born into wealth and the toxic behavior of his mother (Crystal Lowe) rubbed off on him. As an interesting detail in the film version, Auggie can actually tell a lot about a person by their shoes and is pretty accurate.

August Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) has a hard time adjusting to school.

One device the film successfully copies from the book is the occasional shift in perspective with narration from the appropriate character. These shifts not only help keep the different subplots straight for the audience, but help fill in some gaps otherwise left in the plot and flesh out the cast by naturally explaining why they behaved a certain way. For example, why Jack Will succumbs to bad behavior or why Olivia’s friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), doesn’t speak with her. Though there are a few of these shifts, they don’t overstay their welcome and the plot still moves at a good pace.

Although the characters go through plenty of serious situations, the film still has a great sense of comedic timing. Much of the humor comes from the delivery of the well-written dialogue, though a good amount of it also comes from the times when Auggie plays the self-awareness of his condition for laughs. His self-awareness also gives him a good amount of depth, as it gives him good insight into when people are talking about him, though he’s also very understanding of human nature and doesn’t hold natural reactions against anyone. While he goes through change of his own, his effect on everyone else also leaves a lasting impact and leads to some well-timed emotional moments.

Though there isn’t that much in the way of special effects, the way August’s face is rendered is very convincing and pretty much matches the description of his book counterpart. The film also does a good job of visualizing some of his thoughts and reactions, often using his love for Star Wars and space in general to symbolize his growth. These can also result in some funny moments not otherwise seen in the book, including an appearance from Chewbacca that illustrates a point Auggie makes.

An appearance from Chewbacca (Michael Alan Healy) helps Auggie make his point.

On top of that, the film is well-cast. Jacob Tremblay certainly does a good job as August, highlighting the right emotion for the scene while feeling completely natural. While everyone else does a great job, Owen Wilson also demonstrates that with the right material and direction, he really can deliver a good emotional performance.

Of course, you might be wondering how closely the film follows the book. Since I finished the book shortly before watching the film, I can confirm that the film did take some liberties with the source material. Certain events are skipped, like Auggie receiving hearing aids or a “war” with Julian, while others are either condensed or given a different motivation altogether. Since the end result is the same, however, these differences don’t really affect the experience too much, even if you are familiar with the book. Some changes also include adding new material including a subplot where Isabel is finishing a thesis she had previously abandoned, as well as giving Julian more of a character arc. There are also minor changes that don’t really affect anything, like having campers watch The Wizard of Oz instead of The Sound of Music, as well as details that arguably work better on film, like holding one conversation through Minecraft instead of Facebook Messenger.

Even with all of the changes from the source material, however, Wonder is a well-crafted adaptation that’s as fun as it is relatable. Whether or not you’ve read the book, the film really is a wonder.

No comments:

Post a Comment