Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★/5 stars
The first time I heard about the book Wonder was from hearing my 11-year-old cousin rave about it constantly. She fell in love with the book the way it seems a lot of youth have: they were assigned to read it for school and couldn’t put it down. Just like them, when she found out the book was going to be made into a movie, she was through the roof.
After getting to see the movie adaptation, I can understand why.
Wonder tells the story of 10-year-old Auggie Pullman (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), a boy who because he was born with extreme facial differences and not expected to survive is homeschooled by his mother (Julia Roberts) until the fifth grade. Sending “a lamb to the slaughter,” as his dad (played by Owen Wilson) puts it, Auggie wishes only to blend in, or at least make friends but is met instead with isolation, taunts, and hurtful comments, most of which from his affluent classmate Julian.
Meanwhile, his older sister Via (Supergirl’s Izabela Vidovic) starts high school finding herself having to create new footing in where she fits in both in her home life and school life. Through the perspective of Auggie, Via, and a few other central characters, we get a story that explains why it’s important for us to Choose Kind in a world often driven by hatred for people that are different; something that is always timely, but is very significant in the world today.
Directed by Stephen Chbosky who you may know as the writer and director of the book and movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the movie adaptation of the musical RENT, Chbosky brings his usual coming of age feel to this story not holding back on including the emotional aspect as well as comedic and heartwarming moments. There are moments where I and the audience laughed, cried, cheered, awed, or gasped and in a theater that was filled with adults, teens, tweens, and children alike that’s pretty impactful. Even Daveed Diggs who plays Mr. Browne in the movie and joined us after the screening for a Q&A hosted by poet and educator Nate Marshall admitted the first time he saw the movie he cried.
One of the things that stood out most to me was that in a story like this, it’s very easy to center the character of Auggie completely around his facial differences and sensationalize both him and the Pullman family to the point of dehumanizing them or people in the real world like them. In a way, the movie does sensationalize them but there’s never a point in the movie where I don’t feel like these people, especially Auggie, are human. Auggie is just as well rounded as every other child you know: he loves Star Wars, he’s obsessed with space, and has a curious mind.
The movie also deals with middle school bullying in a real way. The bullies are harsh and their actions have consequences on both the people that they bully and themselves. We get to see the teachers, especially Mr. Browne, step in instead of being aware of what is happening and turning the other way or pretending that bullying should be a part of life. Which is something that I really love because teachers may not always have all the right answers and they may not always know everything, but it’s important to create and show examples of teachers using their influence for good.
We also get to see the effects of parenting and adult responses on how children react and behave in both positive and negative ways. Without giving anything away, I’ll say this is another thing I appreciated because we can look at Wonder as a “children’s” book or a “young adult” book if we want, but there’s going to be adults in the audience and adults reading the book with their children, and it’s important for us all to move back and think about if our actions and the things we say exclude marginalized people. And for children, they learn from what older people do.
Another thing that really stood out to me about this movie was Via’s storyline. We see Via struggling to figure out her place in the world both at school and at home when she feels so invisible and left out, but it’s not at the expense of making Auggie’s condition out to be a burden on her life. She genuinely loves her brother and wants to protect him and see him be accepted by society, she just also wants to know where she stands in the world especially as she loses two very important relationships in her life (her grandma and her best friend) and gains a new one (a boyfriend).
Via and Auggie’s dynamic might be my favorite in the movie because personally, I can relate. My brother doesn’t have facial differences, but I do know what it’s like to feel invisible or feel like you have to solve all of your own problems so your family doesn’t have to worry about you too. I also know what it’s like to want to protect your brother from anyone that tries to make him feel bad or wants to bully him for “not being the same as them.” In a heartwarming movie, it’s a very heartwarming and touching relationship.
Wonder is, well, wonderful in my book. Can it be cheesy at some points? Yes. Does it fall into being unrealistic sometimes? Of course (I mean, Auggie really loves Star Wars and space, y’all). But sometimes we need these things. Sometimes what life is missing is those cheesy or unrealistic moments that are so outside the box or childlike it just makes you smile. And besides, I’ve seen very few coming of age stories about 10-year-olds and I’ve definitely seen very few coming of age stories about 10-year-olds with facial differences.
As a 21-year-old I sat in that theater thinking about what it would have been like if we had a story like this put into our curriculum when I was 10 or 11. I sat in the theater thinking about how my 11-year-old cousin was able to understand Auggie and what he went through, at the very least, well enough to know that his bullies were wrong for bullying him and that Auggie should be looked at as no different than her.
I’m not saying that Wonder is going to end bullying or cure it or whatnot. At the very least, it should bring awareness to what facial differences is. But, as a writer, I’m a firm believer in the power of storytelling to make a change and put goodness out into the world, especially in young minds and especially in times of darkness. For children and family storytelling, we need more stories like Wonder; something that acknowledges the complexities and struggles of being young without completely stripping away that innocence just yet.
Be on the lookout for a few quotes from Daveed’s Q&A with Nate and the audience later this week!
Be sure to catch WONDER coming to theaters Friday, November 17th. To check movie times near you visit http://tickets.wonder.movie/
(photo cred: Lionsgate Publicity)