Wonder is best family movie in years

This column originally appeared in various ECM Sun Current newspapers in January, 2018


“Wonder” is best family movie in years

If I had the power to give an award for “the best, funniest, most inspiring family movie of the year,” there’s no question which one I’d give it to: “Wonder.” I don’t have that ability. But I hope I can convince you that this is one of the best movies in many years to take children and grandchildren to see.

“Wonder” is first and foremost about a fifth-grader named Auggie, whose face is different. More than 20 surgeries have given him the ability to breathe, see, eat and hear without a hearing aid. But Auggie’s face is different than everyone else in the school. That leads to frequent challenges with other kids.

The school principal and teachers try hard be supportive to help Auggie “fit in.” The educators are skillful and supportive. However, as one person says to Auggie, “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.”

Early in the movie, Daveed Diggs, who is superb as one of Auggie’s teachers, asks him and other students in the class a critical question: “Who is it that I aspire to be?” The teacher explains, “That is the question we should be asking ourselves all the time.”

Mixing humor, frustration and courage, “Wonder” shows how Auggie, other students, his mother, father and sister answer that question. The movie gently encourages each of us to think about this.

There are several surprises along the way. This is not a completely predictable movie, which is one of its strengths.

Julia Roberts, as Auggie’s mother, and Owen Wilson, as his father, are terrific. I think Roberts should have been nominated and probably won Best Actress awards. Jacob Tremblay gives a complex, sometimes heart-rending, complicated and exhilarating performance as Auggie. Izabela Vidovic is wonderful displaying the supportive but complex reactions Auggie’s teenage sister has to in the situation. There are many other excellent performances. You can see a trailer for the movie here: http://bit.ly/2qWctYx.

“Wonder” is based on a book with the same name by R.J. Palacio. According to Amazon, the book was a New York Times No. 1 bestseller. I can see why. Though the Oscars and other major award programs ignored “Wonder,” it has been hugely popular among moviegoers.

“Wonder” is one of the best family movies in many years. It is art at its best, entertaining and helping us be better people. — Joe Nathan (Editor’s note: Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, joe@centerforschoolchange.org or @JoeNathan9249.)