“Wonder makes overt strides to cast with the kind of diversity warranted for a story set in modern-day New York City, but all leading roles remain white.”
Title: Wonder (2017)
Director: Stephen Chbosky 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Original novel by R.J. Palacio 👩🏼🇺🇸 and screenplay by Stephen Chbosky 👨🏼🇺🇸, Steve Conrad 👨🏼🇺🇸, and Jack Thorne 👨🏼🇬🇧
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Wonder is a sweet family film that teaches lessons about friendship and the virtues of kindness without ever feeling too soupy. Strong performances and writing make this highly enjoyable as well as resonant for any kids dealing with issues of being singled out in school or bullied.
However, the film’s edges are rounded, everything doused in a healthy dose of Hollywood magic. Without the teeth that other films could display on the subject matter of living life with a facial deformity, Wonder is ultimately a feel-good film that escapes lasting grit.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 20% of creative decision-makers were female
The main character, Auggie (played by Jacob Tremblay), commands this film and the plot revolves around his friends and family. While this would normally ding a work in a category reserved for gender equality, Wonder manages to outperform its setup through an outright rebuttal of toxic masculinity. Auggie is allowed to develop deep, male friendships. His father (played by Owen Wilson) is seen crying in a somber moment, after which he and Auggie hug it out. Meanwhile, Auggie’s male teacher and principal play compassionate figures in his life while, in a refreshing role reversal, his science teacher is played by a woman who supports the more cerebral, career-oriented aspects of Auggie’s life. When Auggie and his closest friend Jack (Noah Jupe) are given an award for their science fair project, it’s also handed out by a woman. It’s these kinds of small, seemingly insignificant details that go a long way in fighting subconscious biases.
The leading women of Wonder are complex creatures too, even if they do see slightly less screen time. Auggie’s mother, Isabelle, is portrayed wonderfully by Julia Roberts as a woman who is both strong and vulnerable. While Isabelle does drop everything in her life to homeschool her son, her story arc maintains momentum as she resumes her interrupted career to complete her Master’s thesis. Wonder shows a true understanding of women when Isabelle’s daughter, Via (Izabela Vidovic), deems her mother inspirational precisely due to this tenacity.
Via herself is a relatable portrait of a loving, older sibling who nonetheless has troubles of her own. She is believably insecure but displays quiet strengths as well.
“A 3/5 in Race means people of color were written respectfully, but their characters were less complex than the white characters or were underrepresented.”
While the film does make overt strides to cast with the kind of diversity warranted for a story set in modern-day New York City, all leading roles remain exclusively white.
David Edelstein of Vulture has an interesting take on the people of color who are included, pointing out that:
“Three of the movie’s first sensitive responders are black [or mixed-race]: the ethics-oriented teacher, Mr. Brown (Daveed Diggs); Summer (Millie Davis), who sits beside Auggie at lunch; and Justin (Nadji Jeter), the high-school violin player who’s instantly smitten with Via and encourages her to try out for the school play. The obvious implication is that black people can relate to Auggie’s alienation in a way the privileged white kids can’t.”
When Auggie and Jack are bullied by older kids, they are condescendingly called “boyfriends”. If this moment was overplayed I’d deduct from the overall score, but as it stands the negative language is used for negative characterization, netting a neutral effect in Wonder’s brief portrayal of LGBTQ themes.
Bonus for Body Positivity: +1.00
Auggie’s congenital facial deformity is deeply explored and sensitively portrayed.
Mediaversity Grade: B+ 4.42/5
Wonder may ostensibly be a film about a young boy’s struggle with looking different, but lurking just beneath this veneer is a broader message: that all individuals experience personal struggles, so we should be exercising greater empathy to all our neighbors—not just those with visible vulnerabilities. A laudable moral indeed.