I totally get that this film could be seen as ableist in casting Jacob Tremblay as a boy with facial disfigurement, using prosthetics to fashion a mask that an actual disabled actor wouldn’t need. Obviously, this is still a major problem in the film industry, and I hope that casting directors wise up and allow people who can relate to these stories to act them out. My brain wants me to excoriate Wonder on this basis, for not breaking the mould and continuing to use able-bodied people as mere models for disability “costumes.” The fact that this is up for a makeup Oscar feels morally dishonest in this context, because if a disabled boy were in Tremblay’s role, that Oscar nomination wouldn’t exist. And yet, I’m sure the producers cast Tremblay with that nomination partially in mind, knowing that strong prosthetic work is always impressive to voters. And Oscar nominations usually mean more money and recognition. It is, in a word, messy.
So my head wants to hate Wonder, yet my heart kind of loves it. The reason being is that it’s such a pure-hearted creation that isn’t explicitly just about being inspiration porn like the worst films of this genre. Tremblay’s Auggie is told more than once that he does not need preferential treatment simply because of how he looks, and what’s more, the film wisely does not zero in on his character and make him the sole focus as a way of condescendingly privileging him. In fact, what I really liked about Chbosky’s treatment is how generous he is with the supporting characters, like Auggie’s sister Via, Jack Will, and even Via’s old friend Miranda. He does not make them disposable placeholders for Auggie’s journey, instead allowing us a glimpse into their own personal lives so that we understand who they are and why they act the way they do. So it’s not just about Auggie and the way he is treated. Certainly he is the glue that binds everyone together, but Wonder reminds us that his life is comprised of a constellation of people, some resenting him as much as they love him.
The messages of this one are also very self-evident: change the way you see, don’t judge what’s on the outside, be kind and you will reap the rewards, etc. They’re not game-changing or anything, but these are still important lessons for all of us, young and old. And Wonder handles them with care, in a way that respects both the viewer and the characters in tandem. It may make the unforgivable mistake of ableist casting, but it doesn’t make many others. Therefore, I’m willing to be charitable.