The first day at school is hard but spare a thought for ten-year-old Star Wars fan August 'Auggie' Pullman (Tremblay). Born with facial abnormalities, Auggie has been home schooled by mum (Roberts) to save him from the cruelty of kids. Until now. Headmaster (Mandy Patinkin) takes pity on the sensitive science nut and employs three classmates – Jack (Noah Jupe), Julian (Bryce Gheisar) and Charlotte (Elle McKinnon) – to shepherd him through the dangerous halls. The three would come to play major roles, good and bad, over the next year…
That would be enough to drive any narrative but this adaptation of RJ Palacio's New York Times bestseller doesn't stop there. In a refreshing approach, director Stephen Chbosky (the Perks of Being A Wallflower writer-director) calls in help from The Pursuit of Happyness scribe Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne, (who penned This Is England 86/88/90), and the story branches out to include those in Auggie’s orbit.
Teenage sister Via (a tender turn from relative newcomer Vidovic) feels ignored at home, which wouldn't be so bad if she wasn't ghosted by former best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). However, the glad eye from Justin (Nadji Jeter) helps smooth things over. Miranda isn't avoiding Via after falling in with the cool theatre kids either; she has her own vignette that peeks into the reasons she drifted from Via.
It doesn't stop there either. Jack’s stop-start friendship with Auggie, and the terrible thing he says about him when he thinks he's not in earshot, gets a rewind and explanation too. One scene with nasty bully Julian's parents goes someway to explain where he's coming from. And then there's mum who attempts to get her career back on track after taking the time off to school Auggie.
Phew. There's a lot going on here but it all blends in naturally. And while Chbosky can be guilty of laying on the syrup treacle thick he understands that nothing is ever black and white. Just like he explored in his underrated Perks/Wallflower, Chbosky gets that kids can be cruel sometimes but there’s a reason behind it; we just never know what's going on in people's lives.
A PG version of Bogdanovich's Mask, the young Tremblay may not have the presence of Eric Stoltz in that 1985 drama, but every now and then there’s this great sadness behind the eyes and Chbosky isn't shy about letting the camera roll on Tremblay's face and let his eyes do the talking.