You read the premise for a movie like Wonder, and your eyes instinctively roll back. The difficulty in making stories like this feel non manipulative is that of course bullying sucks; you’d be hard pressed finding somebody that does not agree with that. So how to make the story of a special needs, bullied ten year old, earn its tugging of the heart?
One route could be what Stephen Chbosky did, which is to keep everything low key and as naturalistic as possible. It’s what worked wonderfully (and more effectively) in his previous effort, my favorite movie of all time The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I was surprised that Wonder did not spend so much proselytizing as it did asking the questions that we are afraid to ask most of the times. Mainly that one does not need a facial dis figuration to suffer and feel alienated in this world, and that those who do do not hold a monopoly on victimism.
It’s an all too rare approach for this sort of movies, but one that is highly welcome.