by Meanne M. Mijares
Jacob Tremblay as Auggie; Julia Roberts as Isabel; Owen Wilson as Nate; Izabela Vidovic as Via; Mandy Patinkin as Mr. Tushman; Noah Jupe as Jack Will; Bryce Gheisar as Julian; Daveed Diggs as Mr. Browne
DIRECTOR Stephen Chbosky
DISTRIBUTOR Lionsgate Films
Based on the novel written by R.J. Palacios
Have you ever worn a space helmet? I think space helmets are cool and awesome! In the film, Wonder, August Pullman, loves wearing his space helmet. Not only does it help Auggie imagines to be an astronaut—which any 11-year-old who loves science, video games and Star Wars will tell you is splendid —but it also totally covers his face like a mask. It makes him invincible. Strong like a warrior. And on a day like this one, that’s a particularly remarkable thing, too. Auggie’s mom calls him a “You are a wonder.” And he may in fact be one, clinically, though: It has taken 27 different surgeries just to help him function like any other kid his age. But Auggie would prefer it if he could simply be labeled as … average. Auggie was born with a congenital disorder that caused severe facial deformity (among other health problems). So when he walks into a room, well, normal is not the first thing that comes to mind as people tend to see from the outside. He wants to be like the rest of the guys to be accepted and acknowledged by his peers. But his sister Via tells him, “you cannot be ordinary when you were born to stand out.”
Auggie has learned to cope with that unfortunate, sideshow-like public existence. And he’s lived a fairly average life with his parents, Isabel and Nate, and older sister, Via. Until now, though, he’s been homeschooled by his mom. Isabel believes that it’s time for him to try out public school and 5th grade.
Auggie has already toured the campus a few days back. Mr. Tushman, the school principal, made arrangements for other kids to show him around the area to give him a feel for the place. The kids were nice about it. But Auggie could tell that, Julian, saw him as a total freak. Julian is one of those kids who will smile and be nice in front of adults, but privately do hurtful things to anybody he doesn’t care for. A potential bully, that is.
He doesn’t care for Auggie, at all. Space helmets are cool. And as Auggie walks with his family toward the Beecher Preparatory School’s front courtyard, he wishes he could keep it on all day long. Or maybe just keep walking with the people who truly matter to him. But he can’t. It’s time to stop and remove his helmet, walk into the campus on his own and let the staring and bashing begin. It’s already time for Auggie to see what “normal” really looks like, after all.
Mr. Tushman and another teacher named Mr. Browne both try to make school a safe and happy place for Auggie, one where he can have a absorbed learning experience. Both of them come to Auggie’s rescue when needed. Mr. Browne repeatedly asks kids to think about their choices, namely who they want to be and become. “Your deeds are your monuments,” he tells a class of kids.
He also encouraged them to “choose to be kind.” And though those encouragements toward kindness and astute choices don’t always seem to sit well with the student body, I get to see some kids begin to mature and responsible for their actions in positive ways as the film progresses. They begin to take notice of others’ behavior, and one by one they cross over the self-imposed boundary line between Auggie and themselves. As they do so, true friendships begin to blossom.
The film shows us how kindness can move the world. I was able to relate very well with Auggie as he struggles to find real friends, not particularly on Facebook. I have my own share of people who I thought were my friends but they turned out to be otherwise. I am glad that somehow, I have found people I now spend my time with and accepts me for who I really am.
The film also takes the time to focus on Auggie’s adjusting world from a selection of standpoints, including that of Auggie’s only sister Via; his new friend, Jack; and Via’s estranged best friend, Miranda. Eventually, the film shows that a determined, loving family cannot only pull together and see its way through challenging times, it can also have a bright, positive impact on people outside the immediate family. The Pullmans encourage one another, express their love for each other and verbalize the pride they feel for each family member’s accomplishments. After gaining friends and acceptance, Auggie declares that many of the friends, family and teachers who enclose and supporting him also deserve credit—something we can so easily forget to give in our everyday lives.
What I also love most about the film is the line that Auggie said, “Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life.” An affirmation that encourages us to work and strive hard with no need on stepping on other people’s back or toes. Impossible? Not!
There are scenes in the movie that really hit me close to home. The Pullman family isn’t particularly spiritual, but Isabel does pray aloud, “Dear God, please make them be nice to him,” when dropping Auggie off at school one day. In this scene, I remember from the past how hard I pray to God every day before coming to grade school to overcome bullying and mean classmates with their empty threats and shallow harassments.
In the course of finding her comportments in a new school year, Via meets a “theater geek” named Justin and talks about missing her departed grandmother, who always loved and supported her. “Your grandmother’s still cheering you on,” Justin assures her. I also tear up because I remember my beloved maternal grandmother who always loved me unconditionally, supports and encourages me to be the best version of myself and being a blessing to many.
Our Lord Jesus Christ also lost friends and one of them even betrayed Him. Others fled when He got arrested by the soliders taking Him to Annas, Caiphas and Pilate. One denied Him thrice but He forgave them especially Peter who was really sorry for what he had done. He truly understands what victims of bullying go through because He got bullied and ganged up Himself to save and redeem us from our transgressions. He also called the attention of Saul (now St. Paul) asking him, “Why do you persecute Me?”
Via and Justin eventually kiss, which is just fine. But I hear about someone who got divorced and remarried. Uh-oh…
Auggie has endured many painful surgeries just to enable him to eat, breathe and hear properly. When things get difficult at school, Auggie’s dad makes it clear that Auggie should feel free to push back against anyone who tries to hurt him. When playing dodgeball in gym class, all the boys attack Auggie. “What evil man invented dodgeball?” Auggie questions.
Early on, Jack tells Julian had he looked like Auggie, he’d kill himself—a painful comment that Auggie hears. But later, after realizing how ridiculous his words were, Jack gets angry at Julian’s continued repugnant comments about Auggie’s appearance and blows Julian in the face. Jack and Julian tussle and beat each other until Mr. Browne mediates.
After Auggie and Jack have reconciled with each other, a number of older 7th-grade boys begin ganging up on them. Jack hurdles to Auggie’s defense and gets shoved to the ground, hitting his head on a rock. Auggie is pushed and heaved, too. A group of their schoolmates then leap into the fray to even the odds, with multiple kids wrestling and punching each other.
A bully abuses the Lord Jesus’ name once. There are also a few expletives of “oh my god” and “shut up.” Someone says something “sucks.” Kids call Auggie “ugly” and “a freak.” These words stab my heart as I painfully recall the harsh words classmates hurled at me from way back. The lesson I learned from “Wonder” is that even if one person is ugly, there is always something beautiful behind that face. If you think they are ugly better think again-maybe YOU are the one with a mean and ugly heart. “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” Proverbs 11:22 (NIV)
When introducing himself to Auggie, Mr. Tushman smilingly talks of all the ways kids have joked about his name: “Tushy, Butt Man, Butt Face—I’ve heard ’em all.” There was lack of respect.
DRUG AND ALCOHOL CONTENT
Auggie’s parents drink wine. His mom jokingly exclaims, “Let’s get drunk!” to her husband after she accomplishes a tough task. Miranda’s divorced and depressed mother drinks wine, seemingly to numb her pain and disappointment about her life.
The Pullmans tell family stories and joke about someone passing gas. A child urinates outdoors (offscreen). Julian bullies Auggie in a variety of ways, sometimes subtly in public and other times quite hurtfully. He draws distorted, ugly pictures of Auggie, calling him “Darth Hideous.” He even suggests that Auggie should “do everyone a favor and die.” Perhaps not surprisingly, Julian’s parents turn out to be rather impervious people, too.
At first, most of the other kids at school shadow Julian’s mean-spirited lead, isolating Auggie and spreading the nasty rumor that his touch will spread a virus. Again, I remember how one classmate rudely told everyone in our grade school batch that whoever talks to me might stutter too. Elsewhere, Auggie lets a besieged Jack copy off his test. Via lies about something-just to “belong”. (But later on apologizes.)
It’s easy to smack together a sentimental movie. Filmmakers do it all the time— lurching forth a tear and creating something that parents can pull their kids to in hopes that positive messages might take hold.
But it’s an altogether different mission to produce something like “Wonder”.
Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson earnestly pour their hearts out into this moving, realistic story about a young son who is different. It sews together a heartfelt world inhabited with loving parents, admirable teachers, and kids who believably struggle with who they are and what they need.
Director Stephen Chbosky and his talented cast cleared themselves admirably in telling Auggie’s painful-but-inspiring story. Yes, in the real world, someone like this defaced boy might well have suffered much more physical and emotional bullying than we actually see onscreen. But we nevertheless grasp the point perfectly: It’s hard to be different, to be anything but normal.
Mr. Browne, one of Auggie’s endearing teachers, points out that “when given the choice between being right and being kind, [kids should] choose [to be] kind.” That thoughtful precept applies to how Chbosky has crafted his film as well, and it’s definitely the primary theme running through this wonder-filled narrative.
The result? Wonder does the hard, empathetic, loving work and lets us grow sentimental about it. And that’s a movie-going distinction that parents will truly appreciate.
Overall, I rate this film 5 stars because of its very powerful message: You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14 King James Version (KJV) “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”
I believe if more people would take the time to see the film, the way they treat other people would change for the better and that is a good start. And one day, you will see, the world will become a wonderful and happy place to live in because of its kind and wonderful people.