“Wonder”

 

            Based on the best-selling book, “Wonder” is one of those films where you better bring your tissues.  Yes, it will play your heartstrings so hard you'll start to feel emotionally manipulated.  But the superb cast, and the deft direction, help keep the sentimentality just this side of maudlin, and just the other side of formulaic.

            Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay of “Room”) was born with the kind of facial deformities that even after many operations, he still looks like a freak.  He's ten now, and a fairly normal kid otherwise.  He's fortunate to have loving parents and an understanding big sister.  He's been home schooled up to now, but it's time for Middle School, and his parents think this would be the time for him to try going to a “real” school---when there are lots of new kids.

            But nobody's quite like Auggie.  Kids stare at him, look away, then stare again.  Adults usually manage to wipe that horrified look off their face, but then avoid eye contact.  Or any kind of contact.  Yes, other than his family, Auggie is a very lonely kid.  No real friends.  So his new principal (a well-seasoned Mandy Patinkin) asks a few students to be especially nice to Auggie.  But it all kind of backfires when Auggie realizes that they're not really his friends, which makes him feel even more isolated.

            His big sister, Via (Izabella Vidovic), is having her own troubles adjusting to high school.  Her best friend suddenly decides to run with another group.  There's this boy that's showing an interest in her, but her Mom, Isabel (a subdued Julia Roberts in an understated role), seems to only have time for Auggie.  Her Dad, Nate (Owen Wilson) is supportive, but he never stands up to Mom.

            It's different for Auggie, because while he doesn't want other people's pity, neither does he want to be universally ignored.  He's a smart kid, especially in science, but he's so eager to endear himself that he'll allow another student to cheat off his test.  He's perhaps a bit stunted, emotionally:  he holds grudges, he'll assume the worst about people, he'll suspect the motives of people just trying to be nice to him.  But nobody knows what it's like to be him, either.

            Yes, there are plenty of facile social themes here:  accepting yourself as you are, not belittling the challenges which others face, not bullying.  Navigating the love/hate of sibling rivalries, even if it's only for parental attention.  Developing tolerance of differences.  Learning patience.  But all of those wall-slogan-type platitudes pale in comparison to watching Auggie Pullman become a wonder, before our marvelling eyes.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Which kid at school did you find hard to like?

2)                  Which teacher at school had the most influence on you?

3)                  Do you feel that you received more or less parental attention than your siblings?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association