Movie Review: ‘Wonder’ Stands Against Bullying With Wonderful Storytelling
Bullying in school is a very real problem, causing both physical and emotional distress for the victims. Wonder — based on the novel by R.J. Palacio — tells the cautionary tale of this all-too-familiar epidemic, and the ripple effect that bullying can have on family and close friends.
Bullying is unacceptable anywhere, and against anyone. That is the lesson to be learned in Wonder, but the film doesn’t pander, lecture, or even condemn. Instead, writer and director Stephen Chbosky wonderfully enlightens the audience in this heartrending story, seen through the eyes of fifth grader August Pullman, aka Auggie. The role is played beautifully with pathos by Jacob Tremblay, last seen in the award-winning Room. He is unrecognizable beneath the prosthetics that are meant to make him grotesque. That quickly fades as we discover his beauty within. Auggie has a facial birth defect that, despite several surgeries, has left him looking unlike other children. As a result, Auggie declares himself “not an ordinary 10-year-old kid,” hiding behind a NASA space helmet to hide his deformity. He’s sheltered and homeschooled until his parents — played by Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson — try to assimilate him into public school. Roberts — a mother herself — clearly empathized with her character, often holding back tears. She had a special connection with Tremblay. Wilson is the fun-loving dad going along with mom, who is largely the decision-maker in this family. At times he does give some fatherly advice, such as when he tells his son, “If someone pushes, push back.” Auggie resists blending with other kids, and for good reason. He becomes the butt of the bullies’ jokes. Smarter than the rest, Auggie soldiers on with visits from Chewbacca — also different in his own way — who appears at school to offer moral support. The young actors are the real stars here. Izabela Vidovic is luminous as Auggie’s older sister, Via, struggling with her own high school adolescent angst. Her relationship with her mother is affected by Auggie’s needs, but she puts those on hold as the family supports each other, another important theme that runs through the movie. She has especially tender scenes opposite her grandmother, played by Sonia Braga. Noah Jupe (Suburbicon) is one to watch. He offers a mature performance as Auggie’s best bud, Jack, who steps away from the pack until peer pressure rears its ugly head. The school principle, Mr. Tushman — a name he encourages his students to make fun of — is played lovingly by Mandy Patinkin. He shows a measured understanding of how to navigate Auggie through the cruelty of other children. The film, though touching at times, is also uplifting. We are rooting for Auggie every step of the way, hoping he finds the will to stand up against the bullies’ physical and verbal abuse. In school, certain books are required reading. Wonder should be required viewing. Wonder opens November 17 nationwide.
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