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Review: Wonderstruck

Wonderstruck
10.20.2017
7 10

PLOT: In 1970s Michigan, a young boy finds a clue about his missing father and decides to pursue it all the way to New York. In 1920s New York, a young deaf girl attempts to make a connection with her actress mother.

REVIEW: He may not be the most obvious choice to bring to life a movie about children, and ostensibly for children, but Todd Haynes does quite a capable job making WONDERSTRUCK hum with a sense of childlike whimsy. But perhaps with such intelligent adult films as FAR FROM HEAVEN and CAROL under his belt, Haynes was an appropriate choice to take this story - which isn't aimed at a young audience with ADD - and make it work on the big screen. And while it isn't quite as enchanting or moving as was probably intended, WONDERSTRUCK is definitely idiosyncratic and pleasant enough to leave an impression.

Based on Brian Selznick's book (he wrote the screenplay as well), WONDERSTRUCK tells two parallel tales about children who have similar problems and destinies. In 1970s Michigan, young Ben (Oakes Fegley) is attempting to adjust to life without his mother (Michelle Williams), who died in a car accident not long ago. He finds within a book a note she received from his father, whose identity has been a mystery to him. The note is written on a bookmark from New York, so Ben endeavors to travel there by himself in search of his old man. Intercut with Ben's story is Rose's. In 1920s New York City, Rose (Millicent Simmonds) is desperate to forge a connection with her actress mother (Julianne Moore) and escape her overbearing father (James Urbaniak). She finds escape when she ventures to the Museum of Natural History and is awed by the visual splendor within. Similarly, Ben finds himself staying in that very same museum after making a new friend (Jaden Michael), whose father works there.

Wonderstruck review Todd haynes Julianne Moore Oakes Fegley

I did not mention that both children happen to be deaf (in fact, Simmonds is deaf in real life), an important wrinkle in both of their stories that allows Haynes to get rather creative with his soundtrack. Rose's story is told like a movie from the silent era (it's shot in B&W and obviously features no dialogue), using Carter Burwell's lovely score and accompanying sound effects to lovingly replicate a movie from that era. Meanwhile, Ben's story is infused with a funky 70s beat, while the cacophonous sounds of the city are heard to us but not him. While the movie keeps the connection between the two children tantalizingly unclear for the better part of the running time, it becomes obvious that they are linked by more than just their disability and the trajectories of their journeys.

Narratively, WONDERSTRUCK is just compelling enough to keep us invested, though it gets more than a little sentimental toward the end. It's not a mind-blowing story by any means, and it's very possible that it works on a more profound level in Selznick's book. The movie is so technically sound, though, that your eyes and ears will never go wanting for long. As can be expected from Haynes, the period detail in both time periods is immaculate; production and costume design are both outstanding, as is Edward Lachman's sterling cinematography. The two young leads are also exemplary; after PETE'S DRAGON and now this, Fegley is proving to be a really impressive actor, and cute-as-a-button Simmonds makes a very charming debut. As Ben's new friend Jaden Michael makes a major impression. One of the main things you'll walk away with is the certainty that Haynes has done an outstanding job with his casting.

Whether or not children will spark to the film remains to be seen; it's a long movie and requires patience no matter how old you are, and its magic comes not from visual effects but from notions about forging human connections and the importance of family. Fairly simple stuff, but moving nonetheless, especially when given such careful treatment by a distinguished filmmaker.

Source: JoBlo.com

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