By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
The Elephant Man and Mask are just a couple of several stories about disfigured people overcoming prejudice and struggling with their own self-consciousness about their condition. However, there aren’t too many kid/family friendly ones that offer the realistic perspective of a young child with a similar condition. Based on the acclaimed and popular children’s novel by R. J. Palacio, Wonder introduces movie audiences to Auggie Pullman, a smart and sweet ten year-old boy who suffers from a rare condition that has left him facially disfigured. The film follows his journey as he enters school for the first time and also shows the perspectives of his closest loved ones. The movie offers a wonderful and heartwarming tale of love, family, and rising above fear.
Jacob Tremblay (Room) stars as Augustus “Auggie” Pullman. Born with a rare medical condition and having gone through multiple surgeries to overcome it, Auggie does not look like everyone else. Inside, though, Auggie likes a lot of things most children enjoy. After getting home schooled for years by his loving mother Isabel (Julia Roberts), Auggie’s father Nate (Owen Wilson) feels that it is time for Auggie to attend school with other children to get the proper socialization he needs and also to get him out of hiding. Fearful of his facial deformities, the children at the school initially react negatively, though a couple of students warm up to him. Auggie, almost instantly becomes friends with a classmate named Jack Will (Noah Rupe) and manages to charm a few others. Still, there are some less friendly children like the popular kid Julian (Bryan Gheisar) who bullies Auggie, spreads ugly rumors about him, and makes his first year in school quite hellish. Often hurt and discouraged, Auggie relies on the encouragement and support of those who truly love him to get him through one of the most trying years of his life so far.
Directed by Stephen Chbosky, who co-wrote the screenplay with Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne, Wonder is a beautiful and heartfelt movie that teaches children some very valuable lessons about treating all people with kindness and respect, regardless of how they look. Chbosky and his writers develop the story and characters quite well, and make it more compelling by showing multiple perspectives of Auggie’s story through his family members and friends. Auggie does go through a difficult time, but his troubles also fall upon the shoulders of his parents who must deal with the aftermath and fall out that comes with his bad days at school. This also has an impact on his older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) who goes through some high school related problems of her own. My only minor complaint with the film is that the character of the father (played by Owen Wilson) gets slighted a bit and doesn’t get fleshed out as well as the other people close to Auggie.
Still, Owen Wilson performs well in the role and has several lovely moments as the the rock of the family. Julia Roberts also delivers a lovely performance as the stressed out, but strong-willed mother who has sacrificed a promising career for the sake of her family. Young actress Izabela Vidovic is excellent as Via, the loving older sister who has to sacrifice some attention from the parents for her brother’s sake. Noah Rupe gives a fantastic turn as Jack, Auggie’s best friend. The movie also stars Mandy Patinkin, Dahveed Diggs, Bryce Gheisar, Millie Davis, and Danielle Rose Russell, who all perform outstandingly. The real star of the film, though, is Jacob Tremblay. The talented young actor won several awards and award nominations for his amazing performance in Room. Here, Tremblay displays more maturity with his acting and a palpable confidence as a lead character. What can I say? The kid is great and shows an impressive range with his role as Auggie.
So, by now those reading this review already know that I must highly recommend this film for everyone. However, I must strongly emphasize that parents take their children of all ages (even teens) to this movie and have a serious discussion afterward about bullying, and judging other children based on their looks. The movie teaches very important life lessons, but these lessons must definitely get reinforced by the parents in the home. As the younger children get older, they can have a better appreciation for other great movies like The Elephant Man and Mask which have a lot of the same themes. Until then, Wonder (the movie and book) will offer them a proper education on kindness and courage.