After a couple of months exploring some movies on the fringes of the mainstream, I headed back to the local mega-screen cineplex for some family-friendly fare to kick off the holiday season. With Wonder, I feel like I won the jackpot.
In it, we meet Auggie, who was born with Treacher-Collins syndrome which presents as deformities of the ears, eyes, cheekbones, and chin. Auggie has had over 20 surgeries in his young life to overcome this disadvantage. Expertly played by young Jacob Tremblay (who, beneath the prosthetic makeup, you may recognize from Room and Book of Henry), he shows how hard it is to fit in when you feel the same as everyone else but they keep seeing you as different.
Auggie is your typical fifth-grader in many ways. He loves Minecraft, Star Wars, his family and all things science. He is atypical only in his deformity, and in the resilience and wit he has developed as a result. At home he’s able to be fully himself, but in public he wears a NASA-inspired space helmet to help protect him from the curious and sometimes judgemental stares of others.
We join his journey just as he’s about to attend public school for the first time. He’s been homeschooled by his mom (Julia Roberts), protected by older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) and entertained by his dad (Owen Wilson) up until this point. You can tell that everyone involved is a bit on edge about how this change is going to play out. Switching or joining schools can be nerve-wracking for even the most socially capable kids. Faced with stares and bullying, Auggie becomes quieter, less playful, and sullen.
But he has help in the form of the wonderfully endearing principal Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin), teachers Mr. Browne (Daveed Diggs) and Ms. Petosa (Ali Liebert). He deals with the usual cast of misfit classmates including Julian the bully, Charlotte the overachiever, and Summer the shy ally.
My favourite classmate was definitely Jack Will. He’s the kid who is athletic and good looking enough that he could have played into the cocky and mean archetype. Instead he learned a valuable lesson about the consequences of choosing to fit in with the “cool kids” at the expense of morality. Luckily, he redeems himself a couple of times over by the time the film is through.
While the storyline was primarily from Auggie’s perspective, we also get the opportunity to see the unique perspective from Via, Miranda (Via’s best friend), and Jack Will (who in addition to being my favourite, ends up being Auggie’s first real friend as well). This technique was a note that could have been played a bit louder and longer for me. I particularly connected with the viewpoints of Via and Miranda (could they get their own sequel, maybe?). Additionally, I really appreciated the reminder that everyone has their own equally valid and unique story filled with their own challenges, and that no one has a monopoly on pain.
I’d like to say this movie was as close to perfect as you can get, but unfortunately, there were a few scenes that felt like they should have been left on the editing room floor. The plotline with the beloved dog, and the wilderness adventure camp, both felt underdeveloped and a bit forced in the end.
Ultimately, Wonder is a wonder-ful and heartwarming family film that covers a variety of important themes such as acceptance and overcoming adversity. Mr. Tushman reminds us at the end of the film that “Greatness is not being strong but using (our inner) strength to carry the most hearts.”
Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.