We’re no strangers to films that make us cry at The Hollywood Outsider. Whether for sad or happy moments, there’s nothing wrong with shedding a few tears. That’s why a lot of us go to the theater, after all. We often yearn for a movie will elicit some type of emotional response. When I walked into Wonder, which is based on the book by R.J. Palacio, I had my proverbial box of tissue ready to go. I’ve been reading the book to my 4th grade class, and even though I was only a third of the way through, it affected both me and my students. It’s a story that feels very modern, and it’s told in such a way that makes the characters feel like real people. The film is no different, and gives a full emotional roller coaster at various moments during its 113 minutes.
In Wonder, Jacob Tremblay plays August Pullman, a fifth grade boy with a rare genetic disease that has disfigured his face since birth. Auggie has spent the first decade of his life in and out of hospitals with over a score of surgeries. More important to the story, he’s never been in a traditional school with other children. His mother, Isabel, gave up her dream of being a writer to instead raise and homeschool her son. But now Isabel and her husband, Nate, consider putting Auggie into a mainstream middle school in New York. As expected, the sight of August is a shock to his new classmates. A very small minority are kind to him, but many treat him like a leper with “the plague”. The story unfolds into a life lesson of choosing kindness over being right.
Yes, the story is an emotional one, but I appreciated its delivery of empathy as a theme even more. While Auggie may be the main character of this story, his perspective isn’t the only one we get to hear. His sister, Olivia (Via) has grown up in the shadow of her younger brother. While she takes it in stride, she’s struggled with the lack of attention, even as she enters high school. We also see August’s story from the point of view of one of his new friends at school and even Olivia’s childhood friend, who has drifted after entering secondary school. It’s interesting seeing this story told from so many character’s perspective. Where most stories like this one might take the easy route and make its audience feel sorry for the main character, this one shows us how a situation like this has an effect on others around them. In a world focused on self-centeredness, I found this to be a breath of fresh air. It’s a story that I hope more people will see and take to heart.
Jacob Tremblay is probably most recognizable from his role in the Oscar Winning Room from 2016. While his performance feels more scripted this time around, his ability to convey an intelligent, yet frustrated boy under an incredible amount of prosthetics is astounding. He offers a very adult performance that continues to solidify his name in my list of actors to watch closely. Roberts shines as August’s mother, Isabel. You can see (and believe) the pain in her face when her son attempts to hide his face from the world. Likewise, you can see the bridled joy behind her eyes when he makes his first friend. I even found myself impressed with Owen Wilson, who typically hangs his hat on being that laid-back funny guy. To a degree, his Nate is that guy, but he never crosses the line of being anything more than a loving father with a sense of humor. This is the second film as of late where he’s surprised me with his acting chops. I want more.
“Wonder” Final Verdict
Wonder is a film that I believe is a more important movie than it is a quality one. Consider the gravity of that statement, because I found very little wrong with this film. It’s one that I hope finds a larger audience, because its message is powerful. I challenge everyone to take a couple hours to walk in Auggie’s shoes. And his sister’s, mother’s, father’s, and friends’. If you disagree with my review, that’s just fine. Because just as Auggie’s teacher, Mr. Browne, shared with his class, I’ll choose kindness over being right any day of the week.