Are Hollywood’s title-titans trying to confuse us? “Wonder Woman” was the hit of the summer. Last week, I highly recommended Todd Haynes’ imaginative “Wonderstruck.” Now, I’m touting the family-oriented drama “Wonder”…and soon we’ll get Woody Allen’s new “Wonder Wheel.”
“Wonder” begins as August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) earnestly explains, “I’m not an ordinary 10-year-old kid.” He was born with Treacher Collins syndrome, a rare genetic mutation that causes severe facial deformities.
After enduring 27 surgeries, Auggie is acutely aware of his physical appearance. Hiding beneath a space helmet and homeschooled by his mother (Julia Roberts) at their Brooklyn brownstone, he’s petrified to enter fifth grade at Beecher Prep School. Yet, supported by his mom, dad (Owen Wilson) and older sister Via (Izebela Vidovic), Auggie bravely faces his judgmental middle-school peers.
Predictably, a trust-fund brat, Julian (Bryce Gheisar), cruelly taunts him, saying, “I’ve never seen anything that ugly in my whole life.” And although genial Jack Will (Noah Jupe) befriends him in science class, he betrays Auggie soon afterward.
But then openhearted Summer (Millie Davis) chooses to sit with Augie at lunch when others won’t, “because I want some nice friends for a change.”
Based on the 2012 bestseller by R.J. Palacio, it’s astutely adapted by Steven Conrad, Jack Thorne and director Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”), relating the emotionally eloquent story from multiple perspectives, including how attention-deprived Via is ditched by her BFF Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) for a new crop of “cool” friends.
Not since Peter Bogdanovich’s “Mask” (1985) has there been such a thoughtful and believable depiction of what are now called “facial differences.” And one only wishes that every teacher and principal were as supportive and understanding as Mr. Browne (Daveed Diggs) and Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin).
Boosted by solid supporting performances, Jacob Tremblay (“Room”) once again proves he’s the most gifted child actor in years.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Wonder” is a compassionate, compelling 8, concluding with the upbeat observation: “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.”