The Bock’s Office: ‘Wonder’ shows kindness can overcome
If you’re living with the fantasy that kids are naturally sympathetic and accepting, your time on the playground was smoother than most or you’re simply deluded. Either way, you may want to rethink some of your past interactions after watching “Wonder.”
Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) is like any typical 10-year-old boy — a big fan of video games, the New York Mets and “Star Wars.” But, his hobbies aren’t exactly the first thing most people know about him.
Much of Auggie’s life has been spent in hospitals due to being afflicted with Treacher Collins syndrome, which causes facial deformities. After multiple surgeries, he can live and function normally, though his appearance can be a shock for some until they get to know him.
Having been home-schooled up until now, a family decision for Auggie to start fifth-grade at a prestigious prep school is terrifying for both him and his parents (Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson), who hope with all their hearts that the change will be for the best.
As expected, his experiences with his classmates don’t go great at the onset, but as the school year continues, those willing to break from the crowd find a really great kid and an even better friend.
Tremblay has taken on some heavy roles for someone as young as he is, and after the drama of “Room” and “The Book of Henry,” he approaches material like this masterfully. His significant makeup does the job of making Auggie look painfully different with extensive scarring and tiny ears, but the skilled pre-teen thespian does the rest with an effervescence that all too often is extinguished by reality.
Roberts and Wilson do a serviceable job as his folks, Isabel and Nate, though she does the lion’s share of the work as the protective mom who’s given up her career to devote to her son, while he’s a dad that takes mellowness to new heights, knowing no matter how much he hovers, things won’t be any easier for Auggie.
Then there’s Izabela Vidovic as his older sister, Olivia, who goes by Via, an appropriate nickname given how she’s been defined largely by her brother and his ailment and spent the majority of her life overlooked, finally getting a chance to blossom on her own.
Unfolding in chapters from the viewpoints of those within the Pullman family as well as Auggie’s classmate Jack (Noah Jupe) and Via’s ex-best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), the story demonstrates that although everyone is going through their own battle in this world, choices made on the fly can lead to pride or regret and affect others more deeply than we expect.
As the author and director of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” Stephen Chbosky approaches another tale of outsiders, albeit at a more formative level in this adaptation of RJ Palacio’s young adult novel.
If you’re expecting the pathos of “Mask” or “The Elephant Man,” Auggie’s life isn’t quite as difficult as that of the real-life Rocky Dennis or Joseph Merrick, yet at the same time a fictional character can evoke just as many emotions in his struggle to be accepted.
Yes, there’s some direct bullying — including a double whammy that taints his love of “Star Wars” when a tormentor dubs him “Barf Hideous” after Darth Sidious — but what hurts just as much is being avoided, gawked at and pitied.
Not exactly a surprise that he prefers to retreat to the safety of a toy space helmet for most of the time he’s outside the house or school because he considers himself too ugly to show his face.
Admittedly this is a story for a much gentler world, where a sheltered, comfortably upper middle class boy’s biggest concern is having his feelings hurt, but at that age, wasn’t that enough of a hardship for all of us even without a medical condition?
The stakes are low in “Wonder,” yet that’s what helps drive its point home for the younger audiences who may see themselves in multiple characters and hopefully take away something after the credits roll. Acts of everyday courage and kindness may not feel like much at times, but for the kid alone in the lunchroom, it can mean the world.