Wonder – 113 minutes. Rated PG.
Wonder, based on the R.J. Palacio novel of the same name, follows twelve months in the life of ten-year-old, commencing fifth-grader, Auggie, short for August Pullman (played by Jacob Tremblay, of 2015’s drama Room).
Auggie, born with a genetic abnormality, has undergone 27 surgeries enabling him to see, breathe and look as ‘normal’ as possible.
Despite some facial disfigurement and bulbs of flesh for ears – a reality that has Auggie perpetually hiding his face underneath an astronaut’s helmet – Auggie is a regular kid, excelling at science, loving Minecraft, X-Box games, Star Wars, with a great sense of humour and a wonderful imagination.
Our film commences with the decision made, initiated by educated, home-school teacher and Mum, Isabel (Julia Roberts) and her husband, Nate (Owen Wilson), for Auggie to be no longer be home schooled, but instead to attend a regular middle-school, Beecher Prep School.
Auggie’s family is all supportive, but simultaneously apprehensive about the new environment and its obvious potential for cruelty, bullying and isolation for Auggie.
Easily anticipated is the mean rich kid who leads a posse of followers; the shy girl who wants ‘nice friends’; and a ‘good kid’, Jack Will who, whilst popular, also feels ‘different’ to his classmates, as he attends the school on a scholarship.
It is no surprise Auggie is the victim of cruelty and name-calling, including “freak” and “Barf Hideous” (slang on Star Wars character).
The director and writer, Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 2012), uses a very successful strategy to incorporate other characters’ perspectives of their own lives and current-events.
We understand how Auggie’s older sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic) acknowledges Auggie as the Sun around whom all family members revolve, how she is snubbed by her life-long, best friend, Miranda, how she meets a cute guy and subsequently signs up for the high-school drama.
Similarly, the audience gains insight into the background story of why Miranda is snubbing Via, and how Jack Will’s relationship with Auggie evolves and strengthens.
The use of this strategy is highly successful in its aim – to increase empathy. Our 13-year-old son verbalised how he loved the added depth provided by the various character perspectives.
Wonder is a tasteful, empathy-evoking, heart-tugger of a movie which combines wit, grace and humanity, and which simultaneously avoids demonising any character.
With many memorable lines, big sister Via’s advice on Auggie’s first day of school is gold, “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.”
This is a movie for everyone from PGers to senior citizens.
A must-see. 4.5 stars.