“Wonder” is a movie that belongs in their company. It’s a very tasteful heart-tugger — a drama of disarmingly level-headed empathy that glides along with wit, assurance, and grace, and has something touching and resonant to say about the current climate of American bullying. At the same time, the film never upsets the apple cart of conventionality. “Wonder” is an honest feel-good movie, but it lacks the pricklier edges of art.
Our entire family was sick this past weekend (by sick, I mean I didn’t get off the couch for 16 hours on Sunday), so we watched a bunch of critically-acclaimed films. “Wonder” was first on the list.
What caught our attention, first and foremost, was Wonder’s realness.
By no means can I claim experience as a classroom teacher, but I did spend six months student teaching before deciding the career path wasn’t for me. So many of the dynamics in Wonder tugged at those same heartstrings from my time in the classroom.
I’m not even sure young Julian understands what he’s doing in the film. He’s simply maintaining his coolness and his perch at the top of the hill. Yet, from our parental couch cushions, seeing the heavy damage the young bully is doing to both little Auggie and other bystanders is immediately evident.
It’s easy to leave Wonder with a scornful outlook on today’s young bullies in school. And it’s even easier to claim innocence, both for ourselves when we were in school as kids, and for our own children currently.
What makes me sorely afraid is how many of us — and by “us”, I mean all parents, everywhere — are more like Julian’s parents than we think. The actions of Julian’s parents are astoundingly awful in the film. Despicable. Jaw-dropping.
But what’s truly despicable is how normal those actions are in real life. Again, I’m not speaking from direct experience here, but I do believe this is tangentially related, my time as a hockey official and administrator has brought these types of actions out in the open, front and center. I’ve had phone calls from parents insisting it wasn’t their child’s fault they broke someone’s arm on the ice, it was the referee’s fault for not calling a penalty in the prior game. “How can you expect my son not to protect himself?” they’d say, after witnessing their son slash an opposing player in the head.
To this end, Wonder is one of the most realistic films I’ve seen in recent memory. I applaud Chbosky’s ability to spread our viewership around the circle, gaining insight into the lives not just of Auggie, but of those closest to him. And I applaud Chbosky’s keen ability to maintain the sharp edge of reality and exaggeration.
This film is a masterpiece and well worth your time.