Wonder; 113 min; Rated PG-13
Don’t let “Wonder” slip away without corralling a group of tweens and teens (or a spouse/partner) and taking them to see this remarkable film. It is a touching family narrative that while it focuses on a 10-year-old boy, Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), who since birth has suffered with a craniofacial, genetic disorder, an affliction that has distorted his face (he has endured some 27 surgeries), and at first blush could be considered an early adolescent film, Wonder is so much more. It is life-affirming and brims with a surprising and unrelenting humanity.
Auggie has always been homeschooled by his mom, Isabele (Julia Roberts). But now he finds himself confronting leaving the safety and embrace of his home and family — to include his father Nate (Owen Wilson) and his sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) — and about to begin his first year in middle school, a place where he will confront for the first time the judgment of his peers.
As Isabel and Nate walk him to school, Isabel utters a quiet prayer, saying, “Please, don’t let the kids be cruel.” And yet she knows that by definition cruelty can define so many aspects of middle school. So, of course, "Wonder" is how Auggie strives to adjust to an environment for which he is profoundly unprepared.
But to this film’s credit, it is never overly sentimental or maudlin; rather it inserts into the story other points of view. An example would be Via, who for much of her life has felt on the periphery of the family, understanding intellectually that Auggie has required so much of her parents’ attention, yet yearning to find a closeness with her family that she always finds elusive. Via’s perspective gives the movie a dimension that could easily have been left out. Instead, it brings to the film a conflicted complexity that adds to its sense of reality, one that is deeply humane.
“Wonder” also doesn’t dwell on Auggie’s past medical experiences nor does a doctor appear to give sage diagnostic advice. This is a family’s story, one that is imperfect and at moments heart-wrenching. But for all of its emotive power, it is also about the resilience of the human heart.
For though Auggie is bright and understands the reactions of his fellow students to what they see, he also realizes that he is fearful and untrusting of anyone who approaches him with an outstretched hand.
Again to its credit, “Wonder” is from the first frame understated. It is subtle and subdued. It gently presents its narrative and draws you not only into Auggie’s world but also into that of his family and thereby fashions a realm in which the audience is asked, repeatedly, to look beyond Auggie’s mask and see what is a mere shadow of who this young boy really is as he struggles with his isolation. It’s a wonderful movie-going experience.
There’s a line in the film that resonates from beginning to end: “When given a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” That alone sums up this film.