The book by R. J. Palacio is meant to be a lesson for children around the world to be kind to others, but there is something more profound to this New York Times Bestseller. It is a testimony to all of the families who have the unique blessing to have a family member who is born with different physical conditions that bring about stares and judgement from others. Wonder is not merely a tale of a child with a disability or deformity, but a glimpse into the multi-faceted impact it has on the lives of everyone in the family.
August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) was born with Treacher Collins syndrome, and despite enduring numerous surgeries, he still lives with multiple facial deformities. His mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) has homeschooled him for the first few years of his life, but his parents decide it is time for him to enter school at year five. His new principal tries to help Auggie to adapt to the school by introducing him to some of his classmates before the term, but nothing can adequately prepare him for the other students’ responses to his condition. As he travels through this new season of his life, he becomes the centre of the story, but director Stephen Chbosky (Perks of Being A Wallflower) manages to shows what effect it is to be a person in Auggie’s relational orbit.
What is striking about this story is that the central character is born with a physical deformity, but the film is not about the condition. Palacio’s story takes us through the different layers of how situations like these in our lives do not happen in a vacuum. Watching the narrative unfold on the screen provides an appreciation for families who strive to make the most of the challenges that come into their lives.
The cast and writing do help to help this journey move beyond a mere ‘after-school special.’ Despite the anti-bullying campaigns that may coincide with the release of the film, the final product is a good film. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson play to their strengths as actors and show what has helped to make them into household names, but these are not the roles to celebrate. Ever since his performance in Room, Jacob Tremblay is proving to be the latest child sensation in the industry. Even though he is unrecognisable, his performance is noteworthy and will be sure to grab the hearts of audiences. Another performance of note is Izabela Vidovic who portrays Auggie’s sister Via, who is another actor to keep an eye on in the years to come.
The overt message of caring for humanity despite the package they may arrive into this world in, is hard to miss, but the secondary topics of discussion that can come from this film are just as valuable. The importance of family is critical within the structure of the storyline, especially that everyone has a part to play in the different things that happen in our lives. Then to have the film show the value of male friendship that does not contain a hidden agenda was refreshing. Friendships are essential in life, but in our modern society, we have done more harm than good in the raising of boys. Showing that boys have different ways of communicating and relating, these connections are critical in their development. These elements moved Wonder from being another ‘good for you’ film to an exceptional family choice for the season.
‘A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.’ – Proverbs 18:24
What show I know as a parent before going into Wonder?
The only warning that would be associated with the film is it dealing with bullying situations. It is a confronting storyline, but it is accessible to all in the family. Even though this film is worth sending your children to see, it would even be better for parents to attend the screening with their child. This is a marvellous opportunity to engage with your child and discuss life’s difficulties, how we respond to them and the means of helping others.