Sometimes a film takes you by complete surprise and moves you in a way that you were never expecting. Those who have read the New York Times bestseller ‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio and are anxiously awaiting to see the film adaptation by the same name, are a step ahead of the game. My wife shares your appreciation for the source material and is the one who prompted me to screen the new film directed by Stephen Chbosky (THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER). I am so thankful she did. What I discovered in WONDER is an inspiring film about kindness, bravery, courage and love.
Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) was born with a craniofacial disorder, which means his face looks different from everyone else. To hide from the stares, he wears an astronaut helmet and dreams of venturing into space. Auggie has a strong support system at home with two loving parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) and a wise beyond her years older sister (Izabela Vidovic). Up until now, Auggie has been mostly safe in their bubble being homeschooled by his mother. Starting the fifth grade, Auggie will be entering the local school where he will have to navigate through bullies and friendships in a touching story about compassion and acceptance.
When I heard that I better bring the tissue box when I watch WONDER (which you will), I suspected the reason was because the film was going to force its emotional pull through the natural ways of death, sadness, and heartache. I was wrong. The emotional moments are nearly all from positive support. It’s not easy being a kid. It’s definitely not easy being a kid who looks abnormal. But I think what makes WONDER extra special is the way it takes the perspective from other kids in the story. Auggie’s sister Via, Via’s ex best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), and another kid in Auggie’s class Jack Will (Noah Jupe), all have segments dedicated to their view point. It’s a helpful reminder that we all have struggles and choices to make that go beyond the surface appearance.
The entire cast is terrific with some truly great supporting turns. As he did in 2015’s ROOM, Jacob Tremblay once again delivers an incredible performance. All the child actors are phenomenal bringing so much heart and understanding to the characters. Even the “villainous” moments have levity as we get a glimpse inside the bullies. WONDER is funny and touching walking a very fine line not to become sappy. Which is no easy feat when you have so many moving moments and inspirational lines. “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.” But it’s not necessarily a specific line but when and what character delivers a line that might overload the heart. I hope I teach my kids well enough to choose kindness.
Movies can be great for many different reasons. From sweeping cinematography and amazing special effects to great character development and deeply connected dramatic story telling. The best usually tell some fascinating story in a unique way covering a rather dark, heavy or even tragic topic. WONDER is none of these things yet also a little of all of these things. There’s something to be said about goodness and the rare ability to tell a story about goodness without being a Hallmark after school special. WONDER will make you laugh and cry with a real understanding of children and even the adults who raise them. There isn’t some overwhelming drama or impressive technical achievement in storytelling. WONDER is great, because, to put it quite simply, it is good.