We’re not supposed to judge someone solely by their appearance, as Wonder tells us, but the film itself tends to delve only skin-deep.

The well-meaning drama could find a soft spot with anyone who’s felt like an outsider, especially during their formative years. Yet by lacking subtlety and tugging too aggressively at the heartstrings, it misses an opportunity to be more impactful.

The story centers on Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), who was born with severe facial deformities that required several surgeries, prompting his mother (Julia Roberts) to homeschool him as he bashfully wears an astronaut helmet in public.

As fifth grade starts, Auggie’s father (Owen Wilson) decides to place him in a mainstream private school to encourage social interaction, knowing the risk for bullying. Alongside the stares and taunts from classmates, the precocious yet painfully shy Auggie manages to make a few friends, with some assistance from the kind headmaster (Mandy Patinkin).

His travails have unexpected consequences for those around him, including his teenage sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), whose adolescent crises become lost in a domestic world that constantly  revolves around Auggie’s need for attention.

The screenplay takes a structural cue from its source novel by R.J. Palacio by devoting chapters specifically to the backstories of some key characters, but it doesn’t fully commit itself to such a strategy. Arguably, Via is the most intriguing player, although her story too often is shoved to the backburner by a main narrative that feels false in its awkward conclusion.

As directed by Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), the film has its heart in the right place, and it’s genuinely powerful in spots. However, equally as often, its character-driven charms are replaced by sentimental platitudes and music cues in an attempt to accentuate the inspirational nature of the material.

Still, Tremblay (Room) showcases remarkably versatility for such a young actor, and the rest of the youngsters in the cast bring depth and authenticity to what could have been standard-issue roles.

Wonder makes a worthwhile plea for acceptance, both for others and for yourself. Yet unlike the 1985 drama Mask, which covers similar subject matter, the film unfortunately provides depth to its circumstances over its characters.


Rated PG, 113 minutes.