“Wonder” tells the inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman, a boy born with facial differences that have prevented him from going to a mainstream school. When he finally attends his local fifth grade, he became the most unlikely of heroes. As his family, his new classmates, and the larger community all struggle to find their compassion and acceptance, Auggie’s extraordinary journey will unite them all and prove you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.
Part of the Wonder phenomenon has been empowering young people to more confidently confront the poison of bullying, bigotry and ostracism. “The book has sparked international anti-bullying campaigns,” notes producer Lieberman. “One of the most important things is that the story explores the many different ways people get bullied. Emotional bullying is a big deal to me, and it’s one of the reasons I really responded to the book. Bad behavior has been going on forever, but with social media you now have people treating others unfairly on an even wider spectrum, so the need for these kinds of stories is more timely than ever.”
Spread from hand to hand, family to family, the book sold more than 5 million copies, but its impact went deeper as it also sparked a grassroots “Choose Kind” movement and inspired readers to share their own stories. The book soon lured Hollywood attention as well.
The book’s author R.J. Palacio, now speaks with kids around the country about bullying as part of the Choose Kind movement started in response to the book, and has had thousands sign her Choose Kind pledge. She says it helps to remind kids that the attitude they have now towards others will affect them their whole lives. But Palacio says that much as her book is anti-bullying that alone is not enough. She hopes the book and now the movie will inspire everyone to be proactive, to take the one extra step to give someone a boost or a helping hand. “Sometimes it doesn’t take much at all to make a huge impact,” she points out. “The best part about small acts is that you never know when you might actually be saving someone’s life.”
Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson stepped in to play two of Wonder’s most essential roles: Isabel and Nate, who as Auggie’s parents try to square their protective instincts with knowing their son must find his own place in the world, no matter how harsh. They explore something rarely seen in popular culture – what it’s like to be a parent of a child with differences, navigating anxieties and isolation as they try to bridge the gap between the child they know at home and the mystery the rest of the world sees at first glance.
Says Roberts of her initial reaction to the book: “I thought it had an incredible scope of characters and I loved the character’s different points of view, their compassion and their complexities. I read it with my kids, they all loved it and it was at that point that I thought, this has to be made into a movie.”
“Isabel is at an interesting crossroads,” Roberts observes. “I mean we all go through this incredible shift in our lives when you become a parent, when you become a steward to another human life who becomes your complete and total priority. So now, with Auggie finally going to school, it is very bittersweet for her. It’s the first time that they haven’t been together almost every minute of every day. But it does allow for her to slowly go back to the things she was doing before he was born. Now she has to learn to let go.”
A must-see film for all ages, “Wonder” opens nationwide in cinemas November 29 from Pioneer Films.