Directed by: Stephen Chbosky
Produced by: Todd Lieberman, David Hoberman
Screenplay by: Jack Thorne and Steven Conrad and Stephen Chbosky
Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Izabela Vidovic, Daveed Diggs, Mandy Patinkin.
How would you feel if your appearance caused strangers to gawp, freeze in horror or avert their eyes, so they could pretend they couldn’t see you?
This is Augie Pullman’s world, a 10-year-old boy born with severe facial deformities, about to enter school for the first time. At the school gates with his fiercely loving family, Mum, Isabella (Julia Roberts), Dad, Nate (Owen Wilson) and his teenage sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), Augie hesitates to remove his final shield of anonymity, a space helmet, his final buffer between him, and a schoolyard full of staring children.
Augie accepts that he is different, he just wishes everybody else didn’t have such a hard time with the way he looks.
Director Stephen Chbosky refuses to demonize the surface appearance of his characters by using film to shoot Augie and all those in his orbit through multiple viewpoints.
With multiple viewpoints Chbosky chooses not to minimize the severity of Augie’s facial differences, or the value society places on physical appearance.
One stand out scene is in Chbosky’s multiple viewpoint rendering of the bully, Julian, (Bryce Gheisar).
When Julian is called into the Headmaster, Mr Tushman’s (Mandy Patinkin) office to account for allegedly photo shopping Augie as deformed out of their class photo, we are stunned and moved to compassion as Julian’s mother interrupts and presents an unexpected layer to this scene. Julian’s mother unapologetically declares that she photo shopped Augie out as she was sick of her visitors concentrating on the deformed kid in the photo and not seeing her son.
As Julian’s parent storm out of Mr Tushman’s office, Julian turns back to apologise. As a child with an innocent heart he knows he has done wrong and is genuinely sorry. Without recrimination only heartfelt sadness Mr Tush says, ‘I know you are son’.
There is a lot of heart and transformation within this film and a lot of unbridled joy.
I was captivated by the effervescent joy and connection between Augie and his family.
This is a family everyone would want to be part of. A family whose joy is not metered or seeking approval from anything external to themselves. A family who celebrate each other and their unique differences.
Via says to Augie, ‘Why blend in when you were born to stand out’.
And it is Augie’s self-acceptance that transforms the lives of everyone in this story and everyone watching.
Wonder penetrates as a film about the self-acceptance of our differences and how the choices we make define and expose our truest character.
When we don’t accept ourselves it is easy to judge and put down those who are different from us. Our judgements never define those we judge, they define us.
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