Parents are always trying to teach their kids to be good people, but it can be hard to illustrate morality in words alone. That’s not just for kids. Adults too often don’t think about the consequences of their actions until it’s too late. So a movie like Wonder that shows the pain bullying causes and the benefit for both parties in just being kind is valuable to everyone.
Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) was born with a rare condition that caused facial deformities. After many surgeries, he’s healthy but it’s time to go to public school for fifth grade. There, Julian (Bryce Gheisar) is a bully and Jack Will (Noah Jupe) and Summer (Millie Davis) are friends, but even friendships are complicated for kids at that age.
Wonder does a great job treating the young characters like the full bodied characters kids actually are. They have decisions and judgments to make that are just as important as any adults. When one joins the bully crowd it shows the cost of fitting in, and most importantly it feels bad to do the wrong thing. That’s a bigger deterrent than any lecture. It seems clear from Julian’s first insult that he’s the one who’s really threatened. I hope viewers notice that the “victory” he achieves has no reward. But seeing that is far more effective than telling kids hurt people hurt people.
Auggie still has to learn empathy for others. When your life has been a struggle for 10 years, it’s easy to lose perspective. He’s internalized everything because he’s so used to people staring or worse. But his sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) still has all the normal problems a teenage girl has. She’s allowed to be the focus sometimes and it’s not about him.
Director Stephen Chbosky has as deft a touch with these young actors as he did with teens in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Perhaps like chapters of the book by R.J. Palacio, the film takes the perspective of each one to reveal their internal struggle. These perspectives are unexpected. I half expected them to go with Julian’s perspective to show how his parents made him a bully but it’s not that obvious. It’s the characters with more subtle confusions that let you understand their actions, and redemptions.
Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson play good parents. They push Auggie to get more out of life and don’t coddle or helicopter him. His heartbreak is theirs but they know enough to let him survive it.
Wonder is the best kind of allegory, the kind that doesn’t tell you it’s teaching you something. You could just enjoy the heartwarming story of kids being kids, but these kids are a beacon for how everyone should aspire to be.
Wonder opens Friday, November 17.
Read our interview with Izabela Vidovic here: