The kind of movie the world ALWAYS needs.
Recently, Julia Roberts told a story about how she got involved with her latest film Wonder. The actress had stumbled upon the book by R. J. Palacio and, thinking it might be a story she would want to introduce to her kids, she decided to read it. Deciding her kids would love it, she read it again to them and by the end of it, Roberts wondered what was happening with the book’s film rights and whether she could somehow be involved in bringing it to the screen. After numerous phone calls, she discovered that the book was currently in development for the screen and that one of the producers on it had also served as a producer on Pretty Woman, the title which shot the actress to stardom. I can see why Roberts went to such lengths to be a part of the production. Wonder is a special movie brimming with the kind of charm most would expect a tale such as this to contain. More than that however, the story possesses such a purity and innocence to it which always manages to avoid the saccharine and exist as a true and timeless parable.
The center of Wonder is August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a 10-year-old boy who suffers from facial abnormalities as a result of a mixing of family genes. When it is decided by his mother Isabel (Roberts) that the home-schooled Auggie should start middle school, his father Nate (Owen Wilson) and sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) are worried about whether other kids will accept Auggie or not. No one is more apprehensive than Auggie himself, who goes into regular kids school with a mix of nervousness and curiosity as he battles bullies, insecurities and the overall strangeness of the outside world.
One of the key themes about Wonder that it so eloquently asks us to remember is the knowledge that everyone is loved on some level. Specifically, it’s the love we get from our family which should be the greatest source of inspiration to carry along with us wherever the road ahead leads to. The film does a good job of reminding those who need reminding that they are constantly loved, championed and supported. Wonder manages to do this in two key scenes. The first sees Isabel consoling a tearful, bullied Auggie by saying: “You are NOT ugly, Auggie.” When young boy replies: “You have to say that because you’re my mom,” Isabel retorts by insisting: “Because I’m your mom, it means the most because I know you the most.” Later on when an adjusted Auggie discovers that Nate has hidden the space helmet the young boy would hide his face behind, his father defends his actions. “I know you don’t always like it, but I LOVE it! It’s my son’s face,” he proclaims with the utmost parental love. “I want to see it.” It is that uncompromising and unfiltered love we get from the people in our lives which serves as an armor, a shield and an emotional protection from the horrors of society which can befall us. It is oftentimes easy to forget this whenever a person enters the outside world. But the beauty of it is that it never leaves.
Greatly aiding Wonder in its attempt to not be another typical family film, is its habit of telling the story through the multiple perspectives of its characters. Eventually, we leave Auggie and venture along with his older sister Via, who finds herself now shunned by best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) and struggles with trying to carve out her own identity apart from her family. Not long after we are guided through Miranda’s perspective and the series of events which led her to pull away from Via. Later still, we look at the world through Jack Will’s (Noah Jupe) eyes, whose friendship with Auggie comes to a halt following a revelation. More than just an interesting way to tell Wonder’s story, it offers insights into the lives of individuals audiences would instantly write off in any other movie. In Wonder, we get to know them and understand them, flaws and all, reinforcing the notion that although nobody’s perfect, everybody does have a story. Indeed, that’s one of the film’s key messages; the fact that everyone, each person we encounter on a daily basis, has struggles, worries, anxieties and experiences which cannot help but leave profound imprints on who they are and the way they interact with the world. No one deserves to be written off. Kindness is easy and does so much. Wonder reminds us of these facts and how vital they are to all of us.
No one could have played Auggie the way Tremblay does. Even buried under mounds of latex, the young actor emotes his character’s pain and heartache in the most powerful of ways, while also bringing out the sheer glee in a manner which cannot help but rub off on the audience. The engaging cast of youngsters are all treasures and some of the most gifted working in the business with Vidovic, Jupe and Russell showing a wisdom far beyond their years. More accustomed to starring in their own films, Roberts and Wilson are happy to be in the background this time around and as a result, turn in some stellar work with the two bringing out their characters’ love for both their children in the most poignant of ways.
Wonder suffers from a cliche or two (one turn in particular seems a little overboard) and at times feel a bit too rushed given how the length of an entire school year is being squeezed into a film that doesn’t even clock in at two hours. Yet director Stephen Chobsky never lets the setbacks take over the core heart of the story and as a result, Wonder remains honest and genuine throughout in its aim of showing how kindness is easy and does so much. Initially I walked out of Wonder feeling depressed at having been reminded how painful school had been for me (as it no doubt was for so many). I had made up my mind that I flat out didn’t like the film as a result of the memories it had forced me to revisit. After some thought I then concluded that my displeasure was more of a bitter sadness at the fact that this was the book and film I so wished had been around during MY Auggie period. At the screening I attended, there were plenty of kids in the audience. I’ve no doubt a few of them are right now probably going through the same torment I experienced back in the day or worse, perhaps inflicting it. Here’s hoping Auggie’s story has the power and the influence to changes the world for them. #ChooseKind