A surprise Oscar contender after hitting it big at the American box office, this heartfelt drama makes a timely and welcome case for empathy.

Based on the 2012 novel by R.J. Palacio, Wonder centres around 10-year-old Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay from Room), a space-obsessed kid with a genetic condition that causes severe facial deformities.

His dedicated mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) has home-schooled Auggie up until this point, but believes it's time for him to start attending a public school with other children, despite knowing what he will face there.

As Auggie's first year progresses and he encounters both the cruelty and kindess of other children, the film's narrative spreads out to follow various characters in his orbit, including older sister Via, Auggie's friend Jack and even Via's estranged bestie, Miranda.

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This expanding perspective emphasises the film's argument that everybody deserves a little understanding, a point the film is able to stress without ever spilling over into schmaltz.

A story like this used to be the domain of TV movies, but Wonder shows how well it can work on a much larger canvas when there's a steady, subtle hand at the wheel - in this case it's director/co-writer Stephen Chbosky, who previously helmed the similarly empathetic teen drama The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012).

The actors also help a great deal, with Tremblay once again displaying talent beyond his (very few) years. Although the parents have less of a role to play in the film than the poster may suggest, Roberts is a effective grounding presence, as is Owen Wilson as Auggie's dad.

Any cynicism about Wonder's intentions is easily squashed by its emotionally forthright execution. You're guaranteed to leave the theatre with a strong belief in the power of kindness.

Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Running time: 113minutes
Rating: PG (coarse language)
Verdict: One box of tissues won't be enough.


DID YOU KNOW ...

Actor Simon Callow who stars as illustrator John Leech in The Man Who Invented Christmas has previously starred as both Charles Dickens (in Doctor Who) and his famous character Ebenezer Scrooge (in Christmas Carol: The Movie).