Director: Stephen Chbosky
Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Izabela Vidovic, Daveed Diggs, Kadji Jeter, Mandy Patinkin
The book Wonder by R.J. Palacio has taken schools by storm due to its sensitive subject of bullying and feeling accepted. Now we’re getting the big screen treatment with a pretty strong cast. Jacob Tremblay (Room) stars as ten-year-old Auggie. As he states in the opening voice-over, he’s no ordinary kid despite doing what kids his age like to do like play with lightsabers and pretend he’s flying into outer space. He has a big imagination and often uses that to escape from the harsh realities he faces. He suffers from a facial deformity called Treacher Collins syndrome. He’s had 27 surgeries in all but loves wearing his astronaut helmet as a comfort mechanism. He’s starting the fifth grade and it’s the first time he’s attending a traditional brick and mortar school after being home schooled by his mom, Isabel (Roberts). It’s a big test for Auggie to go through the school hallways and attend classes knowing that everyone will stare at him and treat him differently due to his appearance. The first day goes as expected with the staring and teasing.
Auggie isn’t the only family member struggling. What Wonder does extremely well is showcase the struggles that the rest of his family may be going through. His sister Via, short for Olivia, often finds herself coming second fiddle as the attention is always placed on her brother. She doesn’t feel like her parents or her few friends really know her due to her brother’s condition. She’s in high school and comes into the new school year finding out her best friend has zero interest in being friends anymore. As the school year progresses, Auggie and Via (Vidovic) learn how to navigate those challenges and accept who they are thanks to the help of some new friends looking to see beyond outward appearances.
Wonder comes at a time when it seems like school bullying continues to be a larger problem then ever before. Kids seem to be at their meanest as we live in an entitled society where likes and approvals on social media platforms make a huge difference in a person’s self-esteem. As the film points out in one scene, it’s not just the kids, but their cruel parents as well. Auggie’s main bully is a kid named Julian whose parents demonstrate where their son learned his behavior. His mother lives in a state of denial about her son and whips out the whole privilege card against the principal (Patinkin) threatening to pull Julian out of school if he’s suspended. This scene irked me knowing full well I will have to deal with fellow parents like this.
The film’s main message is to “choose kind.” It’s such a simple concept as Wonder shows us just how easy it can be compared to the energy and effort it takes to be awful to another human being. There are strong supporting characters like Via’s boyfriend Justin (Jeter) or Auggie’s teacher (Tony winner Daveed Diggs) who represent this end of the spectrum. As we see with Auggie’s new classmates, it’s easy to look and judge someone before you take the time to get to know them. Auggie struggles with this himself as he just assumes everyone at school will tease him when that’s not always the case.
Jacob Tremblay won critical acclaim for his role in Room and continues to prove he’s here to stay with Wonder. He makes Auggie lovable and someone worth rooting for. It was refreshing to see Julia Roberts as his mom. She brings a natural maternal side to Isabel that we don’t often associate with her as an actress. She’s paired with Owen Wilson (Cars 3) playing her husband, yet I don’t quite buy them as a couple. They’re two very different actors and together exude a goofy brother/sister dynamic.
If you’re looking for a family film throughout the Thanksgiving holiday, take everyone out to go see Wonder in your post-turkey food coma. Director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) co-wrote the script with Steve Condrad (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty). Together they shy away from giving it the standard after school special treatment as each character felt organic and truthful to their personal struggles. They approach it giving dedicated time to each family member who all respond to Auggie’s circumstances differently. No one feeling is more or less important than the next person’s perspective. Chbosky delivers plenty of laughs along the way and many parents will no doubt feel a little misty as they think about their own children. Hopefully it will give moviegoers a second to think about the bullying in their own life and how we can all choose kind more often in our day to day routines.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? A heartfelt and wholesome outing for the whole family
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS