Dir: Stephen Chbosky
Everyone has a story and essentially this is Auggie’s but the thing that sets this film apart from similar ones is the way it shows how his nearest and dearest have their own stories that are intertwined with his.
Auggie (Jacob Tremblay ‘Room‘) a young boy with a cranio-facial disorder is encouraged to finally go to school for the first time after being home-schooled for many years, where he faces the challenges of friendship and bullying as we see his life from the viewpoints of those closest to him.
Most of the film focuses on Auggie but seeing a few different characters perspectives does add a little something to the film that sets it slightly apart from other films with similar stories. I haven’t read the novel by R. J. Palacio but I assume the different characters voices is something that comes from the source material, a literary device that often proves to be a challenge in screen adaptations that doesn’t always come across well, though I feel it does work sufficiently and actually benefits the film in this instance.
As is often the case, the key to this film being so successful is in the great cast. Front and center as the lead is Jacob Tremblay who impressed me a lot with his role in ‘Room‘ a couple of years ago. Here he has the added challenge of acting through a load of prosthetics and makeup. I follow him on Instagram and he’s relentlessly enthusiastic about promoting his films, nicely complimenting the crew who made his transformation possible. It’s amazing work, a complete full-face and headpiece that have painstakenly been created and applied on the actor so that it’s totally convincing. As this is key to the story you do find yourself looking at Auggie in detail and marveling at the work a little, at first, before almost forgetting about it because the quality of the work is so good that it’s not a distraction as it would be if it felt unconvincing.
Auggie’s family are also very well cast with A-listers Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson as his parents, who are given substantial roles with their own story arcs though they don’t draw attention away from the central character of Auggie. Izabela Vidovic plays his older sister Via and has maybe even more of a role than the parents, one of the best aspects of the film in how her story highlights how siblings of children with special needs often have a difficult time as parents attention is focused on their sibling.
Being as it is a film about a child at school, there are a number of child actors who feature in varying roles, some of which stand out. Auggie’s classmate Jack Will is played by Noah Jupe who I thought was particularly excellent. Seeing Mandy Patinkin and Daveed Diggs (‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ and the original Broadway cast of ‘Hamilton’) as school faculty really worked, in their small roles their characters are presented as very attentive and caring to the needs of their students, possibly a little unrealistically so but still it’s really good to see the film showing teachers who are respected and deserving of such.
My sister and I did think the film might end a different way when we were watching it. There’s a scene near the end that seemed to focus on something a little too much for it to be minor or incidental and we were more than a little worried and vocal that it might be more upsetting that we’d hoped when we sat down to watch it. Eventually though the movie goes down a well-trodden path that’s nothing surprising but is pleasingly uplifting, managing to end in a satisfying place for us to leave this character who we’ve become invested in.
The poster prominently displays a review that used all the keywords they would want it to, so I’ll try not to though I agree it’s an inspirational story of a child with a disability learning about life and friendship which will have certain effects on most caring humans. While it doesn’t do anything hugely surprising or unconventional with the theme, it does add some overlooked viewpoints to the storytelling and skillfully aims for exactly what I expected it to, hitting the obvious targets in a way that’s got to be considered a clear success.
Nominated for the Academy Award in ‘Hair and Make-Up’ at both the 2018 Academy Awards and BAFTAs, an aspect of the film that’s very well done indeed even though there’s really just one implementation of those skills.