A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Wonder is an earnest, emotional family drama based on R.J. Palacio's award-winning novel of the same name. It centers on Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a young boy with a genetic facial difference. Auggie meets both cruel bullies and good friends as he attends school for the first time; his supportive family (including his parents, played by Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) is always there for him -- even when he tries to push them away. The movie has clear positive messages about choosing kindness, appreciating everyone for who they are (rather than what they look like), and true friendship; empathy and perseverance are also strong themes. There's some fighting among tweens/young teens and sad moments involving a loss. Language includes name-calling and insult words like "shut up," "jerk," "freak," and "deformed," as well as an "oh my God" or two. Teens kiss, and adults flirt/exchange mile innuendo. A teen character finishes her mom's abandoned glass of wine after her mom, who's going through a difficult divorce, falls asleep/passes out.
What's the story?
In WONDER, August "Auggie" Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) is about to start fifth grade -- marking his first time at a school with other kids, rather than learning at home from his mom, Isabel (Julia Roberts). That would be plenty nerve-wracking on its own, but Auggie has more to worry about than the average new middle schooler: Born with a genetic abnormality, he has a significant facial difference. Twenty-plus surgeries in his short life have left him able to hear, see, and speak like other kids, but he definitely doesn't look like them. And since he can't wear his beloved astronaut helmet all day at school, he has to face them all in person. It's far from easy; kids call him names ("Darth Hideous," "Gollum") and bully him, and even his parents can't talk away the hurt. But Auggie isn't the only one facing challenges: His older sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), feels like their parents (Isabel and Nate, played by Owen Wilson) barely pay attention to her because Auggie needs so much from them. His new friend, Jack Will (Noah Jupe), genuinely likes Auggie but doesn't know how to speak up for him in school. Via's former best friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), seems tough on the outside but is grappling with difficult family issues. And even bully Julian (Bryce Gheisar) has his own problems. As Auggie navigates his first year of school, he -- and all the people around him -- learn to think more of others and find happiness inside themselves.
Is it any good?
Based on R.J. Palacio's hugely popular, award-winning novel, this drama is earnest and sweet, with great messages about kindness, friendship, and acceptance for its tween target audience. Whether they've read the book or not, kids are sure to appreciate Wonder's take on how hard it can be to fit in and feel good about yourself, no matter what you look like. By mirroring the book's structure and giving viewers first-person glimpses of how the world looks to characters other than Auggie (Via, Miranda, and Jack Will all get their moments), director Stephen Chbosky helps build empathy, which is an invaluable skill for viewers of all ages. That said, the perspective-switching isn't consistent enough for it to totally work as a storytelling device in the film; plot details are brought up and then not really given closure, and the choice of why some characters get to tell their own stories while others don't isn't really clear.
But thanks to an emotionally resonant script and strong performances by the cast, quibbles like that can be mostly ignored. Roberts and Wilson are well-matched as Auggie and Via's parents, Tremblay emotes well even under heavy prosthetics and makeup, and Vidovic pulls off the challenge of playing a moody teen without making you roll your eyes at her. In the supporting cast, Hamilton's Daveed Diggs is engaging as Auggie's believably inspiring teacher, Mr. Browne; Mandy Patinkin is all grandfatherly charm as school director Mr. Tushman; and Jupe is excellent as Auggie's friend Jack Will. A scene in which he reacts to the aftermath of a hallway fight is an astounding bit of child acting. In the end, while it's not hard to see where Wonder is going, getting there is a valuable, uplifting journey, especially for kids.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the other kids react to Auggie in Wonder. What do they learn about him over the course of the movie? What do you think you'd do in their position?
How does being bullied affect Auggie? How did you feel about Julian by the time the movie was over? What role does peer pressure play in some of the bullying? How would you handle the situation that Jack Will faces?
If you've read the book, how do you think the movie compares? Which parts were the same? Which were different?
How do you think this story might be different if the characters weren't, in general, so privileged? What advantages does Auggie have based on his background? Is it OK that he's portrayed by an actor who doesn't have a facial difference in real life?
- In theaters: November 17, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: February 13, 2018
- Cast: Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay
- Director: Stephen Chbosky
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character Strengths: Empathy, Perseverance
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements including bullying, and some mild language
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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