‘Choosing Kindness’: How Julia Roberts And Owen Wilson’s Movie ‘Wonder’ Came From One Mother’s Experience

Julia Roberts is known for her stunning beauty and smile that radiates from the big screen. But in her new movie, Wonder, Roberts plays a mother whose precious child is living with a facial difference. Based on the best-selling novel, the story of Wonder came from author R.J. Palacio’s own experience of seeing her child react to a person with a facial difference. The movie, currently filming, co-stars Owen Wilson and Room star Jacob Tremblay.

As MLive recounted back in 2014, when Palacio surprised a Michigan student at her school as part of a visit organized by the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the author and her son met a child with facial differences when he was only 3-years-old and they were out for ice cream. Her son began to cry at the sight of the young girl, and Palacio moved her family away, ostensibly to protect her. Instead, she created a scene when their ice cream spilled.

Later, Palacio realized she had failed to seize upon a teachable moment for her family. The event was the inspiration for Wonder, a best-seller published in 2012. The Wall Street Journal reported that the success of Wonder spurred interest in a few spin-offs, including one focused on the original novel’s antagonist, Julian, who teases August Pullman, the book’s central character. There is also a book of one-a-day inspirational quotes submitted by actual readers.

The Guardian‘s review of Wonder called it “a disturbing read,” because “it is so accurately portrayed,” in terms of how people act when they encounter someone like the book’s protagonist, a boy who enters middle school after having been educated at home for his entire life.

“They look away with expressions of shock and they even tease – it’s all there, written from Auggie’s point of view as he realises that few people see him as he really is. It also makes you feel guilty too, as, however unintentionally or ashamedly, isn’t that how we’d all react?”

In its book review, Entertainment Weekly described August’s experience of starting school as encountering “both relentless bullying and real kindness.”

Director Stephen Chbosky, who also directed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, based on his own novel, described the message of the movie version of Wonder to People magazine.

owen wilson of 'wonder'
Owen Wilson, known for comedic turns in films such as 'Zoolander,' plays Julia Roberts' husband and Jacob Tremblay's father in 'Wonder.' (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)

“The movie ‘Wonder’ is about family, friendship, love and most of all, it’s about choosing kindness at every stage of life.”

jacob tremblay of 'wonder'
Jacob Tremblay plays a boy with facial differences in the upcoming Julia Roberts-Owen Wilson movie 'Wonder.' Tremblay's breakthrough was his starring role opposite Brie Larson in 'Room.' (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images)

Chbosky told People that Tremblay and Roberts are great people off-screen, making them ideal actors for the roles of August Pullman and his mother, Isabel.

“Both Julia and Jacob are so normal yet so exceptional, not only at what they do, but who they are. That’s what makes them perfect to play Isabel and Auggie. You have to be grounded to fly that high.”

Variety reported that the film also stars Mandy Patinkin of Homeland and Daveed Diggs of the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the novel Wonder has been a consistent New York Times bestseller since March, 2012. It has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal and UKLA Book Award.

Wonder is set for release on April 7, 2017.

[Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images]