MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Stephen Chbosky. Starring Jacob Tremblay, Owen Wilson.
When we first meet August “Auggie” Pullman (Tremblay) he is on his way to begin fifth grade at a prep school after five years of home schooling. Auggie is wearing a replica NASA space helmet to class. He dreams of becoming an astronaut, but the headgear also covers his entire face, which is okay with him. Auggie was born with genetic abnormalities and has had over twenty surgeries to help him eat, hear, and speak. He is a smart kid (and brilliant in science) but feels like a freak; there are plenty of mean kids at school who are happy to second that emotion.
There are also nice kids who are going to become friends, including Jack Will (Noah Jupe), a working-class student with a scholarship, and Summer (Millie Davis), who is quiet but kind. Middle school is complicated, and peer pressure can even mess up Auggie’s friendship with Jack for a while. Fortunately, Auggie’s mom and dad (Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts) and his big sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) show him love and kindness. Via often feels ignored at home when her brother is given special treatment, but loves him too much to resent him for it. Via’s main problem at the start of the school year is seeing her best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) snub her to join a different circle of friends.
The film (like R. J. Palacio’s 2012 bestselling book on which it is based) shows us Auggie’s story through a variety of voices, sometimes revisiting a scene from another character’s perspective. It is a subtle but effective device that reminds us that every person’s life affects those who interact with them. A quote from Wayne Dyer is repeated several times in the film: “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”
The film is not only filled with kindness, but also love and empathy for all of its characters, including the mean rich kid (Bryce Gheisar). The cast is ethnically diverse and the high school characters refrain from risky behavior with drugs, alcohol and sex. I had some minor problems with the affluence on display in the prep school/performing arts high school world of Wonder, but appreciated the humanity on display (including a critique of ostentatious privilege).
This is really a wonderful film for families, with enough humor and heart to keep it interesting for all ages. By the time you have spent two hours watching Wonder, you will not only come to know Auggie as a unique and amazing person, but you may rediscover the unique and amazing people in your own neighborhood.
Five halos: A bighearted, life-affirming family film that encourages kindness and understanding.
One pitchfork: Scenes of bullying, classroom cheating, mild cussing, whizzing in the woods.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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