Despite a nice atmosphere, lovely weather and good food at the American Express Openair Cinema in Canberra, I didn’t enjoy the opening night film, Wonder. There’s a number of reasons but I’m going to do my best not to go on about them. Negative film reviews have, with the advent of the internet, transformed from an inevitable consequence of watching and reviewing films into their own performative sub-genre.
And so, I won’t go on about it. I’m not really in the target audience of Wonder and I’m too familiar with the genre. I will say Wonder is a competent, well-made film. It’s about a young boy, Auggie, with Treacher Collins Syndrome, a genetic disorder that results in facial deformities, attending school for the first time (he’s been homeschooled up until this point) and his difficulty, but ultimate triumph, in making friends and finding acceptance.
If you’ve seen the trailer and read this or any other synopsis, you’ve basically seen the film. It is exactly what it says on the label. There are few surprises and the plot follows the beats you’re expecting.
This is not really a bad thing. It may be a film whose individual parts have been ordered from a catalogue, but it’s a good catalogue, and they chose the parts well. The prosthetic used on the lead, the young Jacob Tremblay, is seamless and he turns in a solid performance. Julia Roberts plays his mother and reminds everyone why she was America’s sweetheart and why it’s such a pity we haven’t seen her in that much for a couple of decades. Owen Wilson is the dad and if you are still watching Owen Wilson in 2018, you know what you’re getting.
The smaller components of the film are the stronger parts. From early on, the film draws attention to the way the entire family revolves around Auggie and starts exploring the way that has affected them. His mother had to stop her career as an academic and his older sister, Via, is used to receiving less attention. Her story, one of a girl who is used to being invisible and trying to leave that role is very sweet.
Via’s troubled relationship with her former best friend in the first half of the movie dovetails nicely with the idea that what isn’t said can be devastating, a well the film goes to for water a couple of times. The resolution of the class bully’s plotline is an acknowledgement that not everyone can be fixed. In fact, all the secondary stories in Auggie’s orbit help elevate the film. They largely fall out of focus long before the end of the film, but they add a few layers and different perspectives to the main plot.
By any objective metric (leaving aside whether such things can apply to film) the film is solid. As I said, it’s what it says on the label. Wonder is part of a well-worn sub-genre with a message about acceptance that’s always worth repeating. A few small things hold it back, like characters who do little except appear, or the emotional denouement coming during a game of Minecraft. That last one standing out to me may just be a product of my age, but it felt parodical to have a plotline resolved by shots of children earnestly typing. Those small flaws don’t change the fact that it’s a perfectly good film.
The film may have been helped by the atmosphere. The newly opened American Express Openair Cinema picked a good night weather-wise, and the place was full of families, which was the perfect audience to see the film with. The food and beverages certainly didn’t hurt, with antipasto and pizzas supplied by Salt Meats Cheese among others. The inflatable chairs took a little getting used to (and a little deflating to achieve the right amount of resistance) but it was all good in the end.
I last went to an outdoor screening a few years ago and saw ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and this had an…ahem, different energy, but it is impressive how much slicker the arrangement has got. It’s a fun way to watch a movie.
For more details on American Express Openair Cinema click here.