Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) likes Star Wars, Minecraft and his dog, Daisy. In other words, he's a typical 10-year-old, if just a bit nerdy. What sets him apart, however, is the genetic disorder, Treacher Collins Syndrome, that even after 27 surgeries leaves his face looking underdeveloped.
To spare Auggie the inevitable stares and cruelty, his mom, Isabel (Julia Roberts), has been homeschooling him in a corner of the kitchen in their Brooklyn brownstone. His dad, Nate (Owen Wilson playing his usual silly, people-pleasing golden retriever of a person), thinks continuing this arrangement would be easiest for Auggie, but Isabel wants Auggie to start fifth grade with the kids at a prep school.
It's at this point that writer/director Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) begins the story, based on R. J. Palacio's 2012 bestseller, and it follows Auggie from the first day of the school year to the last. Of course, Auggie is bullied, but he also makes friends. His best friend is a sweet scholarship kid named Jack (Noah Jupe), whose easy-going nature also makes him a target for the school bully through peer pressure—less aggressive but just as damaging.
Auggie is a singular kid, and under the prosthetics Tremblay plays him with a careful inhibition. But thankfully, the film expands to reveal not just Auggie's point of view, but also that of Jake and Via (Izabela Vidovic), Auggie's older sister who, because of Auggie's great needs has her own, smaller yet no less significant to her, overlooked by their parents.
This provides an important lesson in perspective, even coming as it does in a film in which the family's privilege makes their greatest concern about a serious medical condition about the public's reaction to visible differences and not access to healthcare. By comparison, in the 1985 film Mask, starring a young Eric Stoltz under his own prosthetics as the real-life Rocky Dennis, director Peter Bogdanovich upped the stakes; his condition was life-threatening so as a result Rocky and the motorcycle gang he considered his family weren't nearly as concerned about how people would react to his face.
Still, Chbosky infuses a contagious tenderness into his scenes that even his use of Daveed Diggs as the boys' teacher and the platitude-spouting moral authority of the film can't dampen. Roll your eyes if you must but keep your heart open. Sometimes rich white people problems are still problems.