Lenny Abrahamson’s Room (2015) introduced us to a promising new actor in Brie Larson whose gut-wrenching portrayal of a sexually enslaved woman trapped within a tiny room earned her the much coveted Academy Award for the Best Actor Female category in 2016 beating the likes of Oscar winners Cate Blanchett (for Carol) and Jennifer Lawrence (for Joy). As Larson rose up the ranks from obscurity to the Hollywood A-list, there was another little star who was turning heads at the red carpet. Larson’s co-star in Room was a five-year old boy who had played Jack Newsome, the child Larson’s character Joy had given birth to in captivity. Garbed in the horrid premise that showed a child watching his mother being abused every night and yet, hopefully, yearning to know about the world outside the skylight, little Jack’s innocence was transcendental. This disillusioned five-year old played by the immensely talented Jacob Tremblay brought a poignancy to the story that was never seen in an actor his age in recent times.
Also read: Our review of Room
Adapted from R. J. Palacio’s novel by the same name and directed by Stephen Chbosky, Wonder revolves around a fifth grader August “Auggie” Pullman who has been home-schooled all his life by his mother Isabel. Auggie does not have any learning disabilities as might be construed. In fact, he is very bright for his age. However, he is not like other kids for he suffers from a rare facial deformity called “Mandibulofacial Dysostosis”, more commonly known as Treacher Collins Syndrome which does not allow his facial tissues and bones to grow properly. Due to this unwanted complication, Auggie has never had a normal life. He has had to go through numerous operations just so that he can “see, hear and breathe”. Although it can be heartbreaking for any parent to see their child go through such an ordeal, Isabel and her husband Nate are very open about Auggie’s deformity in the family and have taught him to accept it as a part of him. Thanks to the progressive foresight of his parents and his doting sister, Auggie is a confident young man who dreams of becoming an astronaut one day and travel across the galaxy. As liberated as he is in his home, it is not as simple in the world outside. When he walks out, he notices all the eyes that glance at him uncomfortably. He feels everything – the pity, the revulsion, the horror. But he understands that people feel the exact same way about anyone who is different. This very philosophy is something that Wonder embraces with open arms. Despite having a psychologically stressful premise, the film is refreshingly light-hearted through the family dynamics of the Pullman household. While seeing him off at school for the first time (the kid had outgrown his mother’s knowledge), his sister quietly whispers into his ears one of the most profound and yet simple words that you’d hear – “If they stare, let them stare. You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.”
“If they stare, let them stare. You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.”
Wonder is a narrative that is told from four different perspectives. To begin with, there is Auggie’s perspective of the world and how people reciprocate to his presence. When at school, the second perspective is shown from his friend Jack Will’s (played by Noah Jupe) perspective – the only boy in school who defends him against rude questions about his face, losing his other “cool” friends in the process. The third perspective seems to be unidimensional at the outset but is perhaps the most complex of all – it revolves around Auggie’s sister Olivia “Via” Pullman (played by Izabela Vidovic) who has been sidelined all her life as her parents have had to focus most of their attention on taking care of Auggie. But she is a good person and doesn’t hate him for it. However, she does struggle with her identity within the family. The final perspective is more of a fourth wall, where Olivia’s estranged friend Miranda (played by Danielle Rose Russell) observes the Pullman family from a distance and laments at her own broken family. Although all these perspectives tell stories of different people, they are all tied together by the common thread of Auggie’s journey into the pretentious world where outward appearance defines your personality and how the Pullman family stands by him throughout.
Jacob Tremblay has once again moulded himself into a very unconventional character – one who portrays a deep-rooted awareness of his physical appearance. He knows people are not inherently bad for cringing at him but the child in him constantly fears rejection from them. In a particularly heartwarming scene, Tremblay expresses his exasperation to his mom, who says – “You’re not ugly Auggie.”, to which he says – “It doesn’t count ‘cause you’re my mom!”, and his mother replies – “Because I’m your mom, it counts the most.” Such is the kind of powerful bond that Auggie’s mother Isabel imbibes in him. and Tremblay carries it out with fervour. Julia Roberts is every bit the sweetheart as we remembered from the 90s. As Auggie’s mother Isabel, Roberts brings in an earnestness to the character which is heartening to watch. Her nervousness is palpable the moment she sees Auggie walking off into the melee of kids in the school for the first time, but she knows she has to be strong for his bad days and she also knows that Auggie can pull it off. Owen Wilson as Mr. Pullman has a few scenes but he, too, strikes just the right chord as the cool dad.
Chbosky has a knack of showing the intricacies of human relationships through the eyes of an introverted or socially awkward central character. His stories usually start with being centered around the primary character but gradually expand by bringing in other supporting characters who somehow shape the central character’s life, becoming more and more integral to the story in the process. Think of Charlie, played by Logan Lerman, in the film The Perks of being a Wallflower which was also directed (and written) by Chbosky. In Chbosky’s universe, its always the meek who shall inherit the world, making us realize in the process that everyone is meek in their own way. They all have their own struggles and insecurities.
Wonder is a seminal film in its own right. When people see other people reacting the way they would have reacted, on the big screen, the message takes a wholly different character. We are all of those people who had cringed at Auggie without ever caring to know about him before judging. We are also those people who would be quick to call him handicapped when, in truth, he is as intelligent and capable as any of us. That’s the message the Wonder brings to the table. That in the end, its all about being a better human being and beauty is only skin deep. It’s what you are inside that matters.
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