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If we ever needed a little “Wonder,” it’s now.

Yes, it’s meant to produce tears. But the screenplay does this in a loving, sincere way by focusing on several characters instead of just one, so that we understand why the young people involved hurt and betray each other.

The movie is based on the best-selling book by R.J. Palacio, whose heartwarming story involves Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay, “Room”) who was born with a facial deformity.

Because Auggie has undergone so many surgeries and faced so many physical challenges, he has been home-schooled. But now his loving parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) think that having him attend school with other students in the fifth grade will help him lead a more normal life.

Auggie is used to having people stare at him, and he is timid at first. Although he finally demonstrates his intelligence and sense of humor, he does become a target for bullying and also faces the betrayal of a cherished friendship.

We learn how and why his sister (the wonderful Izabela Vidovic, “Homefront”) also loses a friendship and how she copes with Auggie being the center of the family universe.

Because the film involves a boy with a facial difference, I was reminded of the 1985 film “Mask,” which is based on the true story of Rocky Dennis. While this is fiction, it is every bit as revealing and truthful about the human condition as the first film is.

I love the way the movie is told in chapters of sorts, with that segment’s central character being introduced by name before we learn more. The “villains” in the movie have their own motivations for treating each other the way they do, and because of the way the characters develop we learn to sympathize with them.

Even the secondary characters are important and appealing, particularly Mandy Patinkin as the school principal who wants what is best for every student, even when he must discipline a child.

This truly is suitable for family viewing, although it is not aimed squarely at the younger set — all ages can enjoy it. It is rated “PG,” so it’s without the sleaze factor that many “PG-13”-rated wannabe “family” movies offer (I’m looking at you, “Daddy’s Home Two.”) It is a gentle film about good people and how Auggie’s situation affects them all.

Its themes are the importance of kindness and not judging others by their appearances. It gets us into the heads of all of its main characters, including Auggie, who simply wants to be accepted without being singled out.

What a wonder-full cinematic gift for the holidays.


Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists member. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church.