Wonder-ous film brings beloved book to screen

Olivia Morrison, Free-Lance Writer

In the five years since R.J. Palacio’s award-winning novel Wonder was published, it has sold millions of copies and has been a constant at the top of bestseller lists. Wonder has also become a staple in book clubs around the world, including a “one read” program at EIS in 2014.
The overwhelmingly positive response to Wonder has made it required reading for middle-school students throughout the entire country; this year’s film adaptation of the book has similarly proven itself a worthy viewing requirement for everyone.
Wonder follows a year in the life of August “Auggie” Pullman (played by Jacob Tremblay), a 10-year-old boy born with a craniofacial abnormality. Despite having had 27 surgeries to help him hear, see and breathe better, Auggie has not been ridden of his facial deformities.
As his first year of middle school nears, Auggie’s parents decide that it is time for their son to leave the protective homeschooling nest in their Brooklyn brownstone, and begin fifth grade at Beecher Prep. There, he will be faced with the daunting task of navigating a new school, while having to endure relentless bullying. Like his father Nate (Owen Wilson) says, it feels like gearing up to see a lamb sent to the slaughter.
With the tagline, “Choose kind,” it’s easy for people to presume a level of cheesiness attached to the film. But it’s safe to say that even the most pessimistic moviegoer is likely to appreciate this one—both for its message and for its superb acting and direction.
Tremblay captures the complexity of Auggie’s character; his insecurity, anger, wit and bravery are flawlessly translated from page to film in scenes like the one in which he helps a boy named Jack Will (Noah Jupe) cheat on a pop quiz. This moment of rebellious compassion is realistic in the way in which bonds are formed and friendships are made.
The more heartbreaking scenes of the film are beautifully portrayed by Auggie, often with the support of his mother, Isabel (Julia Roberts). During his first day of school, Auggie is bullied and given the nickname Barf Hideous, a snide remark about his love for Star Wars and resemblance to a character with a horribly burned face. When a hysterical Auggie asks his mother why he has to be so ugly, Roberts does an excellent job portraying the resilience of Isabel in her ability to defuse the awful situation and comfort her pained son.
Although the clear focus of the film is on Auggie, director Stephen Chbosky stays true to the book’s original storytelling by dedicating portions of the movie to tell the stories of central characters impacted by Auggie. One of the most notable of these sub-stories is told from the perspective of Via (Izabela Vidovic), Auggie’s older sister.
Vidovic effectively captures Via’s quiet struggle of living in the shadow of her younger brother while she is forced to face important challenges of her own in secret. Powerful lines like, “My house is like the Earth; it revolves around the ‘sun,’ not the daughter,” show the patient understanding that Via has for her family dynamic as well as the resentment that she holds against it.
Cynic or not, everybody should see Wonder and applaud it for the message it so beautifully conveys. According to Auggie, “There should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.” That rule applies to great movies as well.