If you attended sixth grade at the Lower School, or even if you went to a different school, you must remember R.J. Palacio’s Wonder—the required read that everyone actually liked.
Published in 2012, Wonder follows Auggie Pullman, a 10-year-old boy with a facial deformity, and his entrance into a mainstream middle school. Because Auggie has only been homeschooled before, he struggles to make friends in his new environment, where classmates tease him for his appearance.
Auggie’s condition is unlike those of other characters I’ve read about—there aren’t that many other books about middle schoolers with deformities. Palacio also writes from the perspectives of several characters throughout the novel, so I liked hearing different interpretations of the plot.
When I heard about the new movie adaptation, I was eager to see it. But I was skeptical, too, and didn’t think the movie could live up to the brilliance of the book.
I was proven wrong, however, as Director Stephen Chbosky’s Wonder definitely lives up to its literary predecessor, making it worthy of a two-hour watch on any given night.
The movie had a strong ability to tug at my emotions. Chbosky masterfully portrays Auggie’s social issues in school by showing a handful of students bullying him. Even though the scenes were horrid and unpleasing, Chbosky made them feel genuine and real, not corny and spurious.
As a person who rarely cries, I found myself on the verge of tears during numerous scenes, but particularly during the moment when Auggie overhears his supposed friend say that he would kill himself if he had Auggie’s face. Jacob Tremblay, who plays Auggie, and Noah Jupe—who plays Auggie’s friend, Jack Will—make the moment feel extremely realistic.
The movie also has strong secondary characters. These characters allow viewers to see how Auggie’s condition affects those around him. For instance, Auggie’s sister’s character, Via, played by Izabela Vidovic, feels like the neglected sibling in the family. That side of the story was interesting, since—in some ways—it’s sadder than Auggie’s predicament, and the audience might not realize that at first. This idea was highlighted well in the scene when Via goes to Coney Island by herself, and her parents—though kind and warm—barely notice.
The movie also places the viewer in the shoes of Auggie’s friends, such as Jack Will. In the scene I mentioned earlier, when Jack insults Auggie’s face, the audience can see the powerful force of peer pressure and how kids can easily prioritize that.
Played by Millie Davis, Summer Dawson exhibits the courage required to be Auggie’s friend, when she ditches all of her classmates to go sit with him at lunch. Just like the scenes with Jack Will and Via, the one with Summer highlights the interesting depth of the secondary characters.
Also, Chbosky tackled what the book wasn’t able to portray in detail: Auggie’s face. Because the book only vaguely explains what Auggie looks like, the reader gets a biased and harsh description of his face—mostly from the perspective of Auggie himself. But Chbosky created a visual for what we could only imagine before, which allowed those of us who read the story to understand the book that much more.
If I had to find a fault with the movie, I would say that the music choices could’ve better conveyed emotion, as Jack Johnson’s “We’re Going to be Friends” played multiple times throughout the movie and began to feel repetitive. The movie missed an opportunity to use a wider range of songs to enhance the variety of emotions in Wonder’s complex scenes. This said, the music was not too much of a deterrent.
As the ending credits were rolling, I left the theater satisfied. Not only did the movie honor the book, but it also provided a beautiful interpretation of it. Wonder really was an inspirational story and passed a great message to the viewer as well: be yourself. Since I saw nearly every person leave the theater with smiles on their faces, I would definitely recommend it.