In fact, August Pullman (Auggie for short) loves his space helmet. Not only does it help him pretend to be an astronaut—which any 11-year-old who loves science, video games and Star Wars will tell you is awesome—but it also totally covers his face. And on a day like this one, that’s a particularly awesome thing, too.

Auggie’s mom calls him a “wonder.” And he may, in fact, be one, in a clinical sort of way: It’s taken 27 different surgeries just to help him function like any other kid his age. But Auggie would prefer it if he could simply be labeled as … normal.

You see, Auggie was born with a congenital disorder that caused severe facial disfigurement (among other health problems). So when he walks into a room, well, normal is not the first thing that comes to people’s mind.

Auggie has learned to cope with that unfortunate, sideshow-like public existence. And he’s lived a fairly average life with his parents, Isabel and Nate, and older sis, Via. Until now, though, he’s been homeschooled by his mom. And today it’s time for him to venture out to public school and 5th grade.

Auggie has already toured the school a few days back. Mr. Tushman, the principal, made arrangements for a couple of other kids to show him around the empty facility to give him a feel for the place. The kids were nice about it. But Auggie could tell that one boy, Julian, saw him as a flat-out freak. Julian is one of those kids who will smile and be nice in front of adults but privately do hurtful things to anybody he doesn’t care for.

He doesn’t care for Auggie.

So, yeah, space helmets are cool. And as Auggie walks with his family toward the Beecher Preparatory School’s front courtyard, he wishes he could keep it on all day. Or maybe just keep walking with the people he loves, those he knows love him.

But he can’t. It’s time to stop, take off his helmet, walk into the school on his own and let the open-mouthed staring begin. It’s time for Auggie to see what “normal” really looks like.

The Pullman family isn’t particularly spiritual, but Isabel does pray aloud, “Dear God, please make them be nice to him,” when dropping Auggie off at school one day.

In the course of finding her bearings in a new school year, Via meets a “theater nerd” named Justin and talks about missing her deceased grandmother, who always supported her. “Your grandmother’s still cheering you on,” Justin assures her.

Mr. Tushman and another teacher named Mr. Browne both try to make school a safe place for Auggie, one where he can have a thoughtful learning experience. Both of them come to Auggie’s aid at times. Mr. Browne repeatedly asks kids to think about their choices, namely who they want to be and become. “Your deeds are your monuments,” he tells a class of kids.

And though those encouragements toward kindness and wise choices don’t always seem to be applied by the student body, eventually we see some kids begin to mature in positive ways. They begin to take notice of others’ behavior, and one by one they cross the self-imposed demarcation line between Auggie and themselves. As they do so, friendships begin to blossom.

The film also takes the time to look at Auggie’s changing world from a variety of perspectives, including that of Auggie’s sister Via; his new friend, Jack; and Via’s estranged friend, Miranda. Eventually, it’s dramatically demonstrated that a determined, loving family cannot only pull together and see its way through trying times, it can also have a glowing, positive impact on people outside the immediate family.

The Pullmans comfort one another, express their love for each other and verbalize the pride they feel for each family member’s accomplishments. And after gaining friends and acceptance, Auggie declares that many of the friends, family, and teachers who surround him also deserve praise and applause—something we can so easily forget to give in our day-to-day lives.

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Wonder for Rent on DVD and Blu-ray