“I know I’ll never be an ordinary kid,” said Auggie Pullman.
“Wonder,” a novel written by R. J. Palacio, is alternatingly heartwarming and heartbreaking. It chronicles the story of fifth-grader Auggie, born with Franceschetti-Klein syndrome (which significantly disfigured his face), transitioning from being home schooled to attending regular school for the first time.
Middle school is not easy for Auggie. Julian, his primary bully, torments Auggie daily, leaving spiteful drawings of Auggie’s face in his locker and spreading rumors that touching Auggie will make one contract “the plague.” Auggie manages to overcome constant bullying with the help of his friends, Jack Will and Summer. Both friends demonstrate courage and confidence, ignoring social pressures by befriending the ostracized new kid.
This fall, “Wonder” has been adapted into a movie directed by Stephen Chbosky. Academy Award-winning actress Julia Roberts is strong and vulnerable as Auggie’s mother, relatable in her wish to shield her son from the cruel realities of middle school. Actor Owen Wilson is both supportive and goofy as Auggie’s father.
Daveed Diggs, a breakout star from Broadway’s “Hamilton,” plays Auggie’s teacher. Diggs leads by example as he inspires his students to act with kindness. Izabela Vidovic portrays Auggie’s older sister Olivia (“Via”) with sensitivity and authenticity. Via is navigating her own rocky path through high school, being left behind by her best friend, starting a new romance, and managing the stress of being Auggie’s sister.
But, the movie belongs to August “Auggie” Pullman, portrayed by 11-year-old Jacob Tremblay. Auggie evokes our compassion and sympathy, but never our pity. Auggie is smart, funny, strong, and personable. Even though he faces adversity, his tenacity and resilience win viewers’ hearts; rather than feeling badly for Auggie, one simply wants to become his friend.
A signature strength of the movie is its ability to put the viewer in many different characters’ shoes. It is uniquely divided into segments that focus specifically on a single main character, giving the audience insight into their perspective and laying bare the invisible battles they each fight.
One does not need to be a fan of the book to enjoy the movie; it more than stands alone. “Wonder” is a moving and thought-provoking tale of kindness, strength, love, betrayal, and overcoming adversity. It gives voice to the unheard and spreads messages of acceptance, tolerance, and self-love. The movie leaves its audience with a lot to digest, prompting necessary conversations about what it means to fit in, have compassion, build empathy, and embrace differences.
“Wonder” arrived in theatres nationwide on Nov. 17.