Kids are A-Holes: The Movie Part 62,759
Now this a wholesome family movie clinically designed to make parents cry and make kids feel bad, you know fare like Charlotte’s Web or Bridge to Terabithia. Hoo yes people, this is one of those films. Now granted, I’ve seen films like this go horrifically wrong, so these aren’t necessarily slam dunk winners. Plus, the lead is Jacob Tremblay who was just in The Book of Henry. Alright so he was the excellent child actor from Room (no not that one) as well. So how does his latest fare? Let’s dive in.
Tremblay portrays Auggie Pullman, a kid about to enter the fifth grade after spending his life home schooled on account of a glaring problem: he has a major facial deformity caused by Treacher Collins Syndrome and requiring dozens of surgeries to make sure he can eat and breathe properly. Unfortunately, that still hasn’t made him a pariah when he reveals his face in public, but his parents (Owen Wilson & Julia Roberts) realize they can’t home school him forever. So of course he enters middle school for his first exposure to others children his age, you know, the absolute worse time to be a kid. Growing pains and hard times ensue from here.
So a big strength in this film’s favor is the performance of Jacob Tremblay combined with the amazing makeup job done on him. He’s got on a ton of latex, but it’s some pretty impressive looking work so it doesn’t appear fake as hell. Tremblay definitely brings his A-game for his most demanding role to date on account of the fact that the camera focuses on him for a significant period of time compared to his other acting gigs. He also gives a soft humanity to Auggie that isn’t entirely sympathetic, which I completely appreciate in these kinds of kids movies. Much like A Monster Calls, your protagonist is not a stand-in for Jesus Christ himself, but an actual human being with genuine flaws that he himself has to get over. But while Tremblay was solid, I do wish we spent more time with him slowly evolving as a character as opposed to having other characters discuss how “amazing” he is.
It’s not what I call a deal breaker, but it is a bit jarring that major moments in Auggie’s fifth grade year are mostly conveyed by the supporting cast rather than your main character. This especially noticeable when you see that three other characters get their own title cards and the film switches to their perspective for a brief few moments. My gripe is that the film decides to take these detours at pretty random times and at some points when they don’t really make sense. I did appreciate learning about Auggie’s sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic) and how she has dealt with having a disabled brother as well as trying to not be a bother to her exasperated parents. It probably would have been better had we simply focused on Auggie and Via alone, thus allowing us to experience two characters growing through some tough life experiences…but the film has to ALSO give us the perspective of Auggie’s BFF Jack Will (Noah Jupe) and Via’s old best friend who’s giving her the cold shoulder, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). And the whole lot of them are fine young actors, but their inclusion severely takes away time from the focus of the piece which is supposed to be Auggie.
Weird narrative diversions aside, the film is overall a nice, solid roller coaster of emotional peaks and troughs. It features moments of childlike happiness (with more than a few Star Wars gags), next to rough scenes of bullying that are genuinely unpleasant to watch and will likely begin the waterworks for the more sensitive of the audience to these depictions. However, I didn’t find myself crying during any of these low points despite the fact they were clearing causing people in my theater to sniff up a storm. Now, given my track record on sappy films, this isn’t entirely unheard of, but I can easily point as to why I failed to tear up once in Wonder and why other films have caused me to sob like a baby.
I cried during The Orphanage because the film delivers a 1-2 gut punch at the very end demonstrating the fate of your two main characters. I cried during A Monster Calls because I saw my main protagonist reach the end of his emotional arc and learns to make peace with himself despite how devastating it had to be. I teared up frequently during Beasts of No Nation because I saw the protagonist live a life of blissful peace with his family before it was all violently and horrifically taken from him, and how he tried so damn hard to move past his terrible experience as a child soldier. The common thread among all these films is that I got to intimately know all these child protagonists: their fears, their hopes, their dreams, and their struggle. I didn’t get to know Auggie or even Via…I only got to hear about them through second hand sources, which never fully resonate with me.
I understand it’s considerably difficult to show and not tell, but there are so many easy fixes that could have easily solved these issues. For instance, you don’t follow the Miranda character until the halfway point in the film as she carefully explains her relationship to both Auggie and Via before the start of his fifth grade year as well as what had changed since the Pullman family last saw her. Honestly, it made no sense for this character to tell us, the audience, about what she was going through because she should have been talking to Via about all this. It would have lead to an easily saccharine but nonetheless honest scene showing two characters wrapping up a major conflict between them…and the film flubs that completely. Instead, the movie just has one character perform a small act of kindness that solves all the problems between them off screen.
Hell, Auggie himself is robbed of another big confrontational scene with his best friend Jack when the two decide to hash out their differences…over Minecraft. Not that they are playing the video game in the same room, we just see their text messages to each other as they work out their respective issues. That’s pretty weak sauce and demonstrates a director who really didn’t trust his actors to pull off the heart this film was centering around. Granted, at the helm you had Stephen Chbosky who previously directed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I felt was a much stronger film than this, but nonetheless demonstrated a couple of moments where the big emotional set pieces didn’t land entirely right.
Even with my critiques, I can still say this a decent family flick to check out over the Thanksgiving weekend. Hell, it was such a crowd pleaser that people genuinely clapped in my theater unlike Justice League which got a mere “woo-hoo” from what I imagine was a very exasperated DC fan. So I’ll give this film a solid…