Everybody waxes eloquent about what a carefree period childhood is; how one can be free of worries and troubles. That is a blatant lie. Childhood is an extremely painful period because you lack the most potent defence against hateful people and unsavoury experiences: the privilege of saying that you just don’t give a damn. Children care because not caring is an acquired trait that comes with years of practice. But what Auggie Pullman, the 10-year-old central character of the film Wonder, has to face is not just the wear and tear of an ordinary childhood. It is the amplified hurt of being born with a congenital facial deformity. Most of us can’t imagine what it must mean to be born looking so different that children in your class are afraid they’ll get the plague if they touch you. Or when someone photoshops you out of the class picture because he doesn’t want it to include a ‘freak’.
Wonder tells the story of Auggie, played by Jacob Tremblay, who’s joining middle school for the first time after being home-schooled by his mother, and the galaxy of people around him whose lives are closely tied with his. Owen Wilson plays his goofy-but-loving father, and Julia Roberts the fierce and protective mother. The film is also told through the eyes of Auggie’s sister Via, who feels isolated because her parents are too involved with making sure of Auggie’s well-being; and Auggie’s friend Jack, who is one of those rare people that places premium on friendship over popularity. Sometimes Wonder delivers a few clichés, like when Via tells Auggie not to worry about fitting in when he was made to stand out. Because it doesn’t come out as terribly mawkish, I’m going to risk a cliché of my own: beauty truly lies in the eyes of the beholder. It’s wonderful how, when you like someone, you look forward to his smiles, even when his lips are almost non-existent, and his ears are shaped like bulbs.
Wonder is clearly meant to be a tear-jerker that tugs at your heart strings, and the risk with movies like this is that it goes to great lengths to make sure that its objectives are accomplished. Dialogues can be overly emotional, and situations designed to bring out the helplessness of the title character. Wonder clearly evades such pitfalls, mostly because once you get past the looks, you realise that Auggie is a pretty cool guy. He loves Star Wars, astronauts, science projects and video games. He has an ability to see the lighter side of things and perceive the best in people. Most of us are looking to be extraordinary in some way while Auggie just wants to be ordinary. Sometimes we forget what a privilege that can be.