IF you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind. That’s the ethos underpinning this crowd-pleasing example of a feelgood weepie done right.

Based on the 2012 bestseller by RJ Palacio, the story follows 10-year-old Auggie (Jacob Tremblay from Room), a little boy who was born with a facial deformity that has led to multiple surgeries and the decision to have him home-schooled. But just as he’s about to enter fifth grade his parents, Isabel (Julia Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson), decide to send him to a mainstream school.

Despite being a whizz at science and possessing an imagination that would fill the heads of a dozen kids, he is understandably terrified at the prospect of removing his beloved astronaut helmet, which he wears whenever he’s outside, and showing his face to the other kids. At first he’s ostracised for how he looks but finds hope when he embarks on a friendship with classmate Jack (Noah Jupe).

Superficially, as much as it may fill a certain “disease of the week” mould, director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) avoids the excessively maudlin while still mining every bit of gut-punch emotion that Auggie’s story has to offer.

Chbosky plucks our heartstrings with expert precision, finding a way for the film to transcend a potentially exploitative classification to become something with real heart and things to say about compassion and acceptance. Wonder really earns every smile and every tear it brings out.

We’re chucked head-first into his experiencing for the first time a daunting public school where sideways looks, whispering, and classmates’ jibes are as much a part of the experience as textbooks and pencils. Tremblay is utterly wonderful in the role, acting from behind prosthetics that render him unrecognisable, while brimming with wit and sincerity that will have you giggling as much breaking your heart.

The supporting folks in his life are given room to feel believable rather than being just mere window-dressing, thanks to the creative multiple perspective plot structure and likeable performances that really sell the film’s wide-eyed compassionate outlook. His mum giving up her advanced education to care for her son, his father trying to brighten his son’s life with laughter, his sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) wrestling with her love for her special little brother while trying to having a school life of her own.

Wonder morphs into being not just about Auggie’s life struggles and triumphs but an affecting and quietly thought-provoking look at how people – from family to school bullies – treat each other, and at their capacity to grow and learn. The film’s great trick is to achieve this feat without ever feeling cheap.