Review: ‘Wonder’ reminds viewers about value of kindness

Julia Roberts and Jacob Tremblay from 'Wonder' Photo courtesy of IMDB

By Kristina Valdez | Arts & Life Editor

I know the baby blue cover of R. J. Palacio’s novel “Wonder” by heart; the book has sat in my brother’s room since he bought it from a school book fair in 2012. When the movie was released on Nov. 17, it wasn’t long before we were sitting in the theater with a bowl of popcorn.

Originally written for children, the movie’s themes of kindness and friendship are meant for everyone.

Like the book, the movie centers around the touching story of August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a 10-year-old boy born with facial deformities from a genetic anomaly. He goes to middle school for the first time by the will of his mother (Julia Roberts) and father (Owen Wilson). Auggie is a witty, fun-loving boy with his head in the stars, but he is brought down to earth when young children cry in ice cream stores upon seeing his face or when his classmates ostracize him in school.

The movie is partially narrated by Auggie, but moves through the different perspectives of people whose lives are affected by his. With the flip in perspectives, the audience get to see the pain and struggles of each individual character, although Auggie is the true protagonist.

Auggie’s voice is filled with childish wonder (pun intended), even when explaining how his face makes the world uncomfortable. The opening scene is of Auggie jumping on the bed wearing his astronaut helmet. For the seconds he is suspended in the air, he is in space, an astronaut exploring a faraway galaxy and not Auggie, the kid with the disfigured face.

The pain and anxiety Auggie feels about going to school for the first time is painfully tangible. Children stare; children bully. Stephen King, author of “Children of the Corn,” and William Golding, author of “Lord of the Flies,” make it quite evident from their work that innocence is not far from cruelty.

Auggie is bullied immediately. We watch Auggie sit alone at the cafeteria and go home to weep to his mother. In one moment, you are laughing with Auggie and the next you are swiping a tear away. The movie touches on the sensitive topic of bullying, which has claimed the lives of so many children by suicide, making schools adopt “zero tolerance” campaigns to combat bullying.

But we do see how one friend can make a difference in the world. Once reduced to a mouse-like voice and staring at people’s shoes when he walked through crowds, Auggie is transformed when he has someone to laugh with at the lunch table, compete with in the science fair and go home with after school. Auggie is himself. He doesn’t wear the astronaut helmet in public and he enjoys simple things other children don’t even have to think about like eating in public without stares.

Kindness is what saves Auggie from a terrible school year. After 27 surgeries, Auggie is his best self and all he needed was one friend in the world to remind him so.

The movie is humanized and raw. There are characters that everyone can relate to: the bullied, the bullier, the mother and father, the big sister and the best friend. But viewers will relate most to Auggie. We are invited into his world, his imagination, his love and his pain. We begin to know him; we begin to love him.

In the words of Auggie Pullman, “everyone deserves a standing ovation once in their lives.” For “Wonder,” I stand, I clap and I cheer.

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