A wondrous life

Review: Wonder

(PG) Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Daveed Diggs

The book by R. J. Palacio is meant to be a lesson for children around the world to be kind to others, but there is something more profound to this New York Times Bestseller. It is a testimony to all of the families who have the unique blessing of a family member who is born with different physical conditions that bring about stares and judgement from others. Wonder is not merely a tale of a child with a disability or deformity, but a glimpse into the multi-faceted impact it has on the lives of everyone in the family.

August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) was born with Treacher Collins syndrome, and despite enduring numerous surgeries, he still lives with multiple facial deformities. His mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) has homeschooled him for the first few years of his life, but his parents decide it is time for him to enter school at grade five. His new principal tries to help Auggie to adapt to the school by introducing him to some of his classmates before the term, but nothing can adequately prepare him for the other students’ responses to his condition. As he travels through this new season of his life, he becomes the center of the story, but director Stephen Chbosky (Perks of Being A Wallflower) manages to shows what effect it is to be a person in Auggie’s relational orbit.

What is striking about this story is not that the central character is born with a physical deformity, but that the film is not about the condition. Palacio’s story takes us through the different layers of how situations like these in our lives do not happen in a vacuum. Watching the narrative unfold on the screen provides an appreciation for families who strive to make the most of the challenges that come into their lives.

The cast and writing ensures this journey moves beyond a mere ‘after-school special.’ Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson play to their strengths as household name actors but it is Jacob Tremblay who exceeds in his role as Auggie. Ever since his performance in Room, Tremblay is proving to be the latest child sensation in the industry. Even though he is unrecognizable, his performance is noteworthy and will be sure to grab the hearts of audiences. Izabela Vidovic who portrays Auggie’s sister Via, is another actor to keep an eye on in the years to come.

There is the overt message of caring for humanity despite the package they may arrive into this world but there are also secondary topics in this film that are just as valuable. The importance of family is critical in the storyline as everyone has a part to play in our lives. Then to have the film show the value of male friendship that does not contain a hidden agenda was refreshing. Friendships are essential in life, but in our modern society, we have done more harm than good in the raising of boys. Showing that boys have different ways of communicating and relating these connections are critical in their development. These elements moved Wonder from being another ‘good for you’ film to an exceptional family choice for the season.

‘A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.’ – Proverbs 18:24

What show I know as a parent before going into Wonder

The only warning that would be associated with the film is it dealing with bullying situations. It is a confronting storyline, but it is accessible to all in the family. Even though this film is worth sending your children to see, it would even be better for parents to attend the screening with their child. This is a marvelous opportunity to engage with your child and discuss life’s difficulties, how we respond to them and the means of helping others.

Wonder is now available on DVD. 

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger.




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