The modern family movie presents an interesting challenge. How do you tell a story in a way that's clear and plainspoken enough for younger viewers while still finding ways to bring subtlety and depth to the material? Wonder, the story of a young boy with craniofacial disorder and the people around him, opts not for concealment of its themes but accumulation. It starts off as the portrait of a troubled child, but expands to become a film about community.
His features under prosthetic makeup, Room's Jacob Tremblay plays Auggie Pullman, a 10-year-old who has had 27 surgeries on his face and has been homeschooled by his mom Isabel (Julia Roberts) through elementary school. Entering middle school isn't easy for anybody, but it's especially hard for Auggie. As he wanders helmet-free into school on his first day, with his mom murmuring, it's impossible not to feel exposed right along with him.
Auggie narrates the early scenes of Wonder, but the movie isn't just about him. Soon, the narration begins to jump from character to character, exploring the emotional ecosystem that's developed around this young man. His older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) has learned over the years that she will always be a lower priority for their parents. Her closest friend in the world, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), has suddenly stopped talking to her. And there's a boy (Nadji Jeter) that she likes.
The film expands even further with its perspectives. It's also one of the quietest films I've seen this year. That may make it seem undernourished to some, but it speaks to a certain modesty — one that pays emotional dividends.