Films are manipulative. They are all designed to get a certain emotion out of you. Sometimes they want you to be excited, sometimes they want you to be angry and sometimes they just to con you for long enough that they get your money. God damn you The Emoji Movie. But while we are willing to let films to do this to some extent, we like to act that we don’t know what’s going on. Just like knowing how a magician does the trick ruins it, seeing the mechanics of how a movie makes you feel ruins that as well. So does Wonder succeed in manipulating your emotions?
August ‘Auggie’ Pullman (Jacob Tremblay, Room) is just like any other 10-year-old boy except for the fact his face is very different due to health problems affecting him since his birth. But after being homeschooled for all of his life, he now must make step out into the world and enter the scary world of middle school.
So Wonder‘s main aim is not to really tell a story, we’ll get to that though, but to be inspirational. And to make you cry. It wants you to leave the cinema with a damp eye and wanting to be a better person. That’s why they made the PR move to have preview nights on World Kindness Day, though it sort of flopped because no one really knows what World Kindness Day is. I am being kind to the film here because really, it’s aim is not to inspire people. I don’t think the makers care if you leave the cinema tripping less fortunate folk over on the way, what this is really made for is Oscar voters. They want a golden statuette and are following the very bland formula to at least get nominations at the very least. Not that this formula has been successful for a decade at least, now you need to base it on real life. But that’s the real aim of this movie, which will darken the mood right from the off.
And you can tell it’s going for that bland formula right from the off. A cute Jacob Tremblay voice with a greeting card monologue accompanied by twinkly piano soundtrack? Yep, this is a movie that’s going to try and inspire you and do it in the laziest way possible. It also takes the laziest path to an inspirational story, be perfect like the main character who is a beaming light of sun. This is a character who barely changes throughout the story, the most interesting part of any story already being ripped out, but his niceness makes everyone else around him better. It’s infuriating because the main character usually isn’t perfect but the movie is blind to that. Auggie is usually ignorant to many of the concerns of his relatives, especially his sister Via (Izabela Vidovic, Homefront) who is having her own problems. But as is the case in this sort of film, this never gets called out. It’s basically Lisa from The Simpsons in later seasons.
In terms of the characters other than Auggie, there are three different archetypes. There are the ones there just to do inspirational speeches who are so boring it’s not worth talking about. Then there are the one-dimensional characters who learn from Auggie. These are characters that have no personality trait other than bully or friend. That’s all they are, people who just exist for Auggie to make better through the power of kindness. They are all written terribly, they are all performed terribly and it just infuriates you that the director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) thinks that this will net him a nomination and a goody bag courtesy of the academy.
The final archetype is the character who has a tragic backstory that never gets resolved, but Auggie is there so who cares, the world is better. These characters are written slightly better, they are allowed to have two personality traits though strictly no more, and they, of course, have the back story. This is usually something about how bad their life is, just so we know how much better it is when Auggie comes into it. But as I said, it’s not resolved. Via has a friend named Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell, Aloha) who is shown to have an alcoholic mother. This is completely forgotten about as soon as it’s mentioned because all it’s there to do is make you sadder. It’s not there to make the character more realistic or interesting, it’s there because they needed a sad backstory. Nothing more.
And that’s why I won’t even be dignifying Wonder by coming up with a reason to praise it. All the mechanics are on show, you can see exactly what this movie is trying to do. It is not an honest movie that wants to be inspirational if it was it would not need to make the point that it was inspirational all the time if it was. True inspirational films tell an important story and allow you to realize how inspirational it was. Just this year we had Hidden Figures, a great story of black women being key to getting men into space into the 1950s. It was truly inspirational but it never needed to bang on about it because it simply was. This by trying desperately to be inspirational shows itself to nothing but a cold-hearted cynical attempt to get some awards.
Wonder is on the same level as Collateral Beauty for me, though maybe not quite as misjudged or offensive. It’s a movie not made to be brilliant, it’s a film made to tick off the supposed checklist to win awards come the new year. Hopefully the only one it will pick up will be at the Golden Raspberries because it’s cynicism is so obvious right from the start. It tries the most basic attempts to make you cry and be inspired, but it all has the same effect as if you see the cards up the magician’s sleeve. And then the only emotion Wonder created is one of anger.