Whether it’s on a playground or in the White House, bullying seems to rear it ugly head in every aspect of society these days. However, "Wonder" is here to remind audiences that kindness does still exist in the world.
The new film, which opens in theaters this week, stars Jacob Tremblay as Auggie Pullman, a smart, "Star Wars"-loving kid who embarks on his first day of school. Despite the support of his sister (Izabela Vidovic) and parents, played by Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts, Auggie is worried that the other students will pick on him because of his cranial facial differences.
Although his first foray into middle school is filled with tears, setbacks and hardships, Auggie ends up inspiring the people in his orbit by refusing to be a victim and always extending a kind hand to others.
"Despite having been met with so many moments of unkindness in his young life, he still only manages to show kindness to other people," says R.J. Palacio, who wrote the award-winning book that inspired the movie. "If a boy like Auggie Pullman can find it in himself to be kind to other people, so can I."
At a time in history where bullying is on the rise and politics continues to divide, Palacio and director Stephen Chbosky believe "Wonder" is hitting the big screen at the perfect moment. They hope the film will inspire viewers to also choose empathy and tolerance over hate.
"We can all agree that we’re not going to mean our way out of this problem," Chbosky says. "Right now, an act of kindness is almost a revolutionary act."
"We need to be talking about kindness on every level, whether it’s political, whether it’s what we expect of our leaders, whether it’s what we expect and hope for parents in the community," adds Palacio. "They can not only change someone’s day, they can really change someone’s life with these little acts of kindness that just make the world better."
When it comes to fostering kindness in children, Palacio and Chbosky agree that both parents and teachers play vital roles. Educators, in particular, are at the forefront in "Wonder," as Mandy Patinkin's Mr. Tushman and "Hamilton" star Daveed Diggs' Mr. Browne constantly push their students to reach for the stars and choose the right paths.
Chbosky, who also wrote "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and directed its film adaptation, notes that he never would've become a writer if it wasn't for the great teachers and mentors in his life, including "Rebel Without a Cause" screenwriter Stewart Stern.
"'It took that special teacher to recognize in me, 'I think that you can be a writer,'" Chbosky says. "Those teachers make all the difference."
While teachers can impact kids in profound ways, that doesn't mean moms and dads aren't just as important. Palacio believes that parents should set good examples for their children, as well as others.
"To quote a great woman, 'It does take a village,'" says Palacio. "We’re not just parenting our own kids in our communities, we’re looking out for each other’s kids as well."
"Wonder" opens in theaters Nov. 17.