HOLLYWOOD—I cannot recall the last time a movie really struck and emotional chord with me. The movie “Wonder,” is one that took me back to a time in my own childhood where things weren’t always so happy-go-lucky. As a critic, I find myself advocating for films as a pure form of entertainment, however, with “Wonder” this is a film that is a must-see for all Americans not only for its subject matter, but its ability to appeal to all audiences, of all ages, all cultures and all races.
“Wonder” is a tale about Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), a fifth-grader who has been homeschooled his entire life, due to a facial deformity he suffers because of a medical condition. Some might want to compare the movie to “Mask” or “Powder,” and while those flicks are powerful, “Wonder” has a certain level of charm and tugging at the heart that I feel those films emitted, but not to such a powerful level. Tremblay is fantastic in the role and further showcases why he is one of Hollywood’s best actors under the age of 18. His performance in “Room” was a revelation, and the level of work he delivers in this tearjerker is just as riveting.
Concerned about their son’s ability to socialize with others, his parents Isabel (Julia Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson) decide it’s time to enroll their son at Beecher Prep, a private school. While the movie might have some cliché moments, it’s a bit of an evolution in the world of emotional rollercoasters. The audience knows Auggie will encounter bullying; we know his parents will be worried sick; we know the emotional toil the pressures of fitting in will impact our main character. The one thing I did not expect as a viewer is how the film would challenge me to face some personal demons in my past as a kid.
The notion of being bullied, being ostracized by others for not fitting in, dressing different, talking weird or just some flaw that makes you stand out from the bunch. Bullying is a major theme throughout the film, but the movie’s ability to place the lens on those in Auggie’s life and those who torment him. Not everything is seen solely from the perspective of Auggie, which helps the audience see how all of these lives are impacted by their actions or inability to act. Roberts and Wilson are sensational in their respective roles as Auggie’s parents. Roberts delivers sincerity, poise and power to a character whose warmth just makes you feel good.
This perspective is poignantly portrayed from Jack (Noah Jupe), who is the first kid to truly see that there is more to Auggie than meets the eye. However, at the same time peer pressure gets to the best of Jack and he discovers the hard way that there are consequences for one’s actions. We see how the world of Auggie’s bully, Julian (Byrce Gheisar), whose actions are a direct result of his parents.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, adults have the power to change a lot of the madness in the world, especially when it comes to bullying. One cannot be so blind to what their children are doing behind closed doors or while at school. Our children tend to become splitting images of ourselves, so we if we fail to alter are bad behavior, how could we ever expect our children to do it.
I love that “Wonder” makes Auggie’s plight everyone else’s plight as well. People learn not to quickly judge, we learn to act and not sit back and be idle, we learn that family is vital, we learn that we are stronger than the sum of all parts. “Wonder” teaches us that there is good in all, but at its core it teaches kids the importance of being kind, thoughtful and open to never judge a book by its cover, even though so many of us do it all the time.