Magazine article The Human Life Review

Wonder

Magazine article The Human Life Review

Wonder

Article excerpt

WONDER

Directed by Stephen Chbosky

Reviewed by Anne Sullivan

"Dear God, let them be nice to him." It seems like such a simple prayer, one that any mother might utter for her child. We hear it quietly whispered by Isabel (played by Julia Roberts) for her nine-year-old son on his first day of fifth grade in the heartwarming yet emotionally powerful film Wonder.

Based on the eponymous book by R.J. Palacio, Wonder tells the story of Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), who suffers from Treacher Collins Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes severe facial deformities. While the novel doesn't hold back from describing Auggie's horrifying face-underdeveloped cheek bones that can look like melted skin, a small jaw and chin structure that leaves him chewing with his front teeth, and downward-slanting eyes, one of which hangs lower than the other-director Stephen Chbosky softens Auggie's facial condition. Still, it is enough to have an impact without frightening the viewer.

The film, like the book, is narrated by different characters as they describe from their own point of view Auggie's first year at a mainstream school- Beecher Prep-after years of homeschooling. Auggie is petrified, as any kid starting a new school would be. The difference is he is no ordinary kid-and he knows it. Very much aware of his looks, he wishes he could "walk down the street without people seeing me and then doing that look-away thing." Auggie cautiously starts making his way, dealing with his classmates' stolen glances at his extraordinary face, their open taunts suggesting that touching him may "give you the plague," and the school bullies who hide their fear of opening their hearts to Auggie by intimidating or turning others against him. The viewer aches, alternately rooting for Auggie while wanting to warn him not to risk his heart. And when he finally makes a friend in classmate Jack Will (Noah Jupe), it is all we can do not to openly weep and cheer.

However, the normalcy of Auggie's relationship with Jack leads to a betrayal so real and familiar that anyone who has ever been in middle school will feel as if the wind has been knocked out of him. Part of the beauty of this story is that Auggie deals with the same difficulties many other children his age face. Even without being in Auggie's shoes, we can identify with his feeling of isolation and his longing to be accepted. Slowly, we see Auggie for what he is: a normal child wanting to make connections with his contemporaries. We understand how difficult it is for Auggie at a time in childhood when kids are simultaneously trying to fit in and stand out. The difference is that his situation is layered with a facial deformity that prevents him from getting that first chance most kids are afforded by their peers. Yet what draws the viewer in is the strength and determination with which Auggie perseveres. Despite-or maybe because of- his face, Auggie makes a difference at Beecher Prep, not only to his few friends but to his class and his school. When the people around him take a chance and look beyond his face, the impact it has is like the millions of ripples after a small pebble is dropped in a lake.

This is not the kind of story where the kid goes it alone, though. Auggie is surrounded by adults who care about him: his mother Isabel; his father Nate (Owen Wilson), and school principal, Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin). Auggie's highschool-aged sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) is also supportive and loving, even as she struggles to find her own way in the shadow of Auggie's difficulties. …

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