Wonder

"Wonder" gives an inside look at the horrors of middle school from a different perspective. 

Walking into school and everyone stops to stare. People whisper in passing. Everyone goes out of their way to make sure they don’t come in contact with the different kid. What seems to most as a great injustice is the everyday life of August Pullman.

New York Times best-seller “Wonder,” written by R.J. Palacio, follows the story of August “Auggie” Pullman as he struggles through the daily life of a fifth-grader starting middle school. Unlike his peers, Auggie has an extreme facial deformity due to a genetic mutation he was born with, which makes being at a new school even harder. The novel explores the hardships of standing out, as Auggie faces the challenges of bullies, making friends and learning to live his life despite his deformity.

As a fan of the novel, I didn’t think the movie adaptation of “Wonder” lives up to the expectation of greatness from the book. While the movie did attempt to address the social issues and challenges Auggie faces in school, it almost seems forced whenever some of the major plot points occur. While the issue of bullying is brought up numerous times and was a center of all Auggie’s struggles, the movie doesn’t portray Auggie’s internal battle every time something happened. Instead, it makes him out to be a whiny kid who storms into his room whenever something doesn’t go his way.

When comparing the movie to the novel and what it tries to incorporate, the movie is a model of contradictions. At times, it includes very small details and even quotes the novel verbatim in certain scenes, which admittedly causes problems because sometimes it doesn’t make sense, or they rearrange or skip certain plot points altogether. In the novel, Auggie’s friend Summer is essential because of being the first kid who isn’t afraid of Auggie and accepted him for who he is, but in the movie she’s reduced to the secondhand friend who only shows up when Auggie’s former friend, Jack Will, gets ostracized.

These contradictions also create an inconsistent passage of time. The detailed scenes prolong the movie, yet whenever they skip scenes it’d be confusing as to what was happening. Some of the scenes that were supposed to be emotional were left dry because the scenes were rushed into without any background. When Auggie’s older sister Via tries to exclude the family from her play, Auggie reacts brashly in response to her not wanting her school to know about him. What’s supposed to be a profound scene between the two siblings and their relationship is immediately pushed aside as the movie rushes into the death of their dog, Daisy. Sitting in the theater watching, the movie felt like it was dragging along, and I couldn’t help but question the timeline and its pace.

My favorite aspect of the novel is that it not only follows Auggie’s story, but introduces the perspectives of other characters to show how they view Auggie. By revealing the inner thoughts of people like Jack and Summer, the reader can see the growth of these characters as they come to accept Auggie and see him as a normal person.

The movie attempts to switch narrations between characters at first, and admittedly the first transition to Via went well in accordance to the book. However, as the movie progresses the narrations start to blend with each other until the perspective settles on Auggie for the remainder of the movie. There’s an attempted revival to bring back the different perspectives when Via’s former best friend, Miranda, takes the stage to explain her erotic behavior, but after that the different narrations stop and stick with Auggie.

Overall, the movie is average on its own, but tries too hard to be like the book. Instead of focusing on the larger issues at hand, like the consequences of bullying and the struggles of deformity, the movie attempts to incorporate every scene from the novel and therefore loses its deeper meaning. In the case of book versus movie, the novel has higher quality content and a stronger sense of awareness.

Contact Brittany Bell at bellbl@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.