Courtesy of Wonder website
Isn’t going to a thought-provoking, thoroughly grown-up movie without the kids the BEST? Seriously, I’m asking because I haven’t been to a movie that wasn’t targeted to the under-12 set in ages. And so, no surprise, I found myself at the opening night of Wonder, surrounded by a gaggle of 9-year-old Girl Scouts, and looking forward to the wine that a prescient mom planned to squirrel into our local pizza joint post curtain call.
I settled into my seat fully aware that R.J. Palacio’s book that inspired the movie is utterly beloved, and has become required reading at many elementary and middle schools. I also knew that my now 15 year-old son loved it when it first came out, and he’s not exactly an enthusiastic reader. But good books turned into lame films aren’t exactly uncommon. All of which is to say my expectations for the film were measured.
It was delightful.
It was also precious, predictable and bit manipulative. I haven’t cried that much at a film since the last time I watched The Color Purple. And yet, I loved Wonder, both for the excellent acting by the kids, and way the film generously posits that the two-way street of acceptance is in reach for all kids—not just the physically different, but the jerks of the world, too.
To be fair, the cinematic Auggie is freaking adorable (sad-eyed, smart, and cool) even with faux facial defects. My heart swelled every time a child found the courage to connect in spite of peer pressure, rotten parents, or preconceived notions and fears. You hope your child would do the same. Wonder also astutely addresses the fact that the healthy child also bears intense emotional scars from living in a sick sibling’s shadow. My brother had cancer as a child—and I can tell you that he wasn’t the only one who suffered from the experience.
So, if you haven’t seen Wonder, skip the drop off and see it with your kids. Talk to them. Ask questions. Why do people turn away from Auggie? How does he overcome this rejection? What would you do? Which character did you identify with the most and why? Have you ever reacted poorly to someone's unusual appearance or behavior? Have you ever wanted to stand up for someone but were afraid? What did you think might happen? What would you do differently after seeing the movie? What does being kind mean to you? What actions can you take to help someone feel accepted?
Although Treacher Collins Syndrome is rare, differences aren’t, and kids need to understand that Auggie is the overweight kid struggling on the monkey bars. He’s the child who communicates with a stutter. Who can’t look you in the eye. Who comes from a different country. Help your child make the connection.
We’re living in divisive times, when many people seem to equate sameness with security. It’s ugly. In that context, Wonder’s simple message seems even more important: Acceptance is good. Beauty comes from within. Everyone can be redeemed. Choose kind.