November 16, 2017

Smarty Movie Review: ‘Wonder’

Directed by: Stephen Chbosky
Run Time: 1 hour 53 minutes
Rated: PG

While volunteering at the school book fair a few years ago, one book consistently sold out and every day we would scramble to restock it. It was a bright blue book with a simple cartoon picture on the front called Wonder and it was all these kids could talk about! I was eager to find out what all the fuss was about, so my son and I both read and loved the book. I was completely astonished by how beautiful, honest and impactful the story was. When I learned that Hollywood had caught on to this gem of a story and planned to make a film, my first thought was complete dismay. If they butchered this perfect tale I would never forgive them. It was with great trepidation that my son and I headed to the theater—we were both feeling extremely protective of the story and I kept wishing to myself as the lights dimmed “please don’t screw this up” repeatedly. I am thrilled to say my wish came true.

If you haven’t yet read the book (and why haven’t you? Go get a copy right now!) Wonder tells the story of Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a ten year old born with severe facial differences. Auggie has endured dozens of surgeries over his short life and has been home-schooled by his loving mom Isabel (Julia Roberts) when not in the hospital. Now that he’s healthy and old enough, Isabel and her husband Nate (Owen Wilson) have decided it’s time for Auggie to attend real school. While Nate is hesitant—even comparing sending Auggie to sending a lamb to the slaughter—Isabel is determined. The first day of school is nerve wracking for everyone—including big sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) and they all give Auggie a pep talk before he walks into school for the first time. Mom Isabel quietly prays that the children will be nice to her son—a prayer familiar to so many moms as they throw their children into the unprotected wilderness of school.

At first school is unbearable for Auggie as he’s subjected to cruel treatment by bully Julian (Bryce Gheisar). But eventually fellow student Jack Will (the absolutely charming Noah Jupe) approaches Auggie and the two become fast friends. That friendship seems to be all that Auggie needs to thrive at school until he overhears Jack telling bully Julian that he’s only nice to Auggie because the headmaster asked him to. Auggie is absolutely devastated at losing his one and only friend.

Following the structure of the book, Wonder shares the story from the perspective of several characters throughout the film. As the entire family deals with Auggie’s differences, we also see the effects on sister Via. Via has grown up knowing that life revolves around her brother. She feels loved, but she’s never the center of attention. She is well aware her job in the family is to not make waves as her parents can only handle one child with challenges. Via manages her circumstances pretty well until she heads off to a new school where her best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) ignores her. Blindsighted by this sudden loss, Via struggles to figure out just where she belongs in this confusing and often cruel world.

I don’t want to share too much about what happens with the Pullman family, but I will say that what amazes me about this film is just how incredibly authentic it is. You know you are going into a tear-jearking experience when your main character is a kid wearing a few pounds of prosthetics. But every moment in this film is just so truthful and relatable that you just can’t help but mist up as you see these emotions play out on screen. By showing the perspectives of several characters, you feel their honest motivations which creates a layered but complete picture of the beautiful story.

The casting of this film is fantastic. I am the first to admit that while I admire Julia Roberts, her mega-star beauty and status can be overpowering and I thought she would be out of place as Isabel. She did a beautiful, understated job as the loving mom who gives her all to protect her son. Owen Wilson wasn’t given too much to do as dad Nate but his relatively few moments on film were all completely heartfelt and added much needed lightness and humor during tough moments. I raved about young Jacob Tremblay after his unbelievable performance in Room, and he once again delivers an incredibly honest and stunning performance of this resilient young character.

The truth is there just aren’t enough great family films like this being made in Hollywood—films that are not only entertaining but enlightening. How we treat others and how kindness matters are critical things we need to teach our children. In a recent interview, Julia Roberts hit the nail on the head by saying that we don’t want to be lectured about compassion, we want to be infused with it. That is the perfect sentiment and the best reason of all to see this glorious film.

P.S. After watching the film, Jen Plym said Wonder should be required viewing for all middle school kids. I couldn’t agree more!

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