“What’s the deal with your face?” That’s what the jerky fifth-grader, Julian (Bryce Gheisar), asks the new boy with the birth defect, Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), at the beginning of “Wonder,” an unabashedly affirmational dramedy directed by Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) from R.J. Palacio’s 2012 novel.
The deal is that Auggie has a genetic abnormality that made him differently faced and has caused other health problems that have led to numerous surgeries in his 10 years of life. He’s always been homeschooled, adored and protected by his mother (Julia Roberts), father (Owen Wilson), and teenage sister (Izabela Vidovic), but now he’s entering the real world — well, sort of. It’s a fancy private school, the sort of place where the principal, Mr. Tushman(!) (Mandy Patinkin), is confident the students will comport themselves with dignity and class because their parents are rich.
There are mixed results on that front. The aforementioned Julian, one of those li’l bastards who act sweet when adults are around, is actively unkind and influences the boys who follow him. Others avoid Auggie but aren’t cruel about it. It isn’t long before one classmate, Jack (Noah Jupe) — first at his mother’s insistence, then on his own — befriends Auggie and helps him navigate fifth-grade life. For his part, Auggie remains guarded (he’s used to kids rejecting him) but eager to fit in.
What a sweet, modest film this is! The story (which Chbosky adapted with Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne) is inherently emotional, but Chbosky conveys its compassionate message — “be kind” — without manipulation or false sentiment. Jacob Tremblay (the kid from “Room”) gives an earnest performance as the bright but often sad Auggie, and Noah Jupe (recently seen in “Suburbicon”) is an endearing best friend. Interludes with Auggie’s older sister and her high-school troubles reinforce the film’s positive vision of an almost idyllic world where parents and teachers are supportive of children, and where opponents are converted, not vanquished. It’s a nice place to visit.
B (1 hr., 50 min.; )