Change Is Wonderful: Various storylines offer view into multidimensional family growth

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again. Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks mark a time where a flood of movies bring the masses to fill theater seats. The movie that kicked off my movie-watching holiday season left my heart filled and my sweater sleeve soaked with tears.

Directed by Stephen Chbosky, “Wonder” is inspired by the New York Times bestseller written by R. J. Palacio in 2012. The plot follows the story of August “Auggie” Pullman, a boy with facial differences who attends elementary school as a fifth grader for the first time since being homeschooled.

Now, I will warn that I haven’t read the book — so, I can’t tell you how accurate is it. However, “Wonder” is surely one of the most impactful and heartwarming movies I’ve seen in the last few years.  

The film’s greatest strength lies in the shifted focus away from Auggie. Surely Auggie is the exemplary protagonist of the story; however, there are multiple shifts throughout the film that offer the points of view of Auggie’s sister Via, Auggie’s newfound friend Jack Will and Via’s best friend.

Via’s perspective in the story is especially notable as it shows how the older sister copes with feeling outcasted by her parents, who have spent the majority of her life focused on Auggie. The audience sees the flip side of the coin other than the obvious, warranted pain that Auggie experiences as a heavily bullied fifth grader. Throughout the film, Via tentatively vies for her parent’s praise, but to no avail. As Via begins to discover her self-worth independently through theater, she learns how to advocate for herself. Believe me when I say that my tears were just because of Auggie’s triumphs in the plot. 

The sibling relationship between Auggie and Via offers pertinent character development for the two. Auggie learns about Via’s discontent with the way their parents treat him at her expense; however, Via recognizes the appropriate times to put her needs on the backburner when Auggie starts to feel the heavy effects of bullying. An especially tender moment that pulled on my heartstrings occurred when Auggie and Via meet at the middle in experiencing loneliness, and Via comforts Auggie by reminding him that they’re each other’s best friend– which works to heal Via’s pain as well.

The film takes every character’s flaw and does a superb job of showing the reasoning behind the behavior. The message of trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes helps the audience understand Via’s discontentedness, the school bully’s mean spirit, Jack Will’s indecisivity and more.

As the plot develops, Auggie’s “quiet strength” reveals itself through his ability to forgive those who bully him and become patient with his family. However, the most inspirational part of Auggie’s strength is the ways he influences others to stand up and grow. By the end of the movie, Auggie finds a circle of friends who began close-minded, judgemental and full of cowardice. Watching Auggie’s ingenuity, intelligence and spunk push through the harshest of words increases empathy for supporting characters and translates into the audience.

Not to mention, Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson played a vivacious, yet heartwarming parent duo to Auggie and Via with complexities that shine on their own.

The only criticism I have is the lack of depth in the bully’s backstory. This would have more fully supported the overarching messaging of understanding other’s stories.

“Wonder” is much more than a story about a kid who gets bullied. It shows that everyone involved — the bully, the one being bullied, bystanders and families — all play an integral role in understanding others and meeting people where they’re at.