Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck,” a sweet, gentle story of two children connecting across time, is one of those films that I wanted to like far more than I actually did. Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars
Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck” is one of those films that I wanted to like far more than I actually did. Adapted by Brian Selznick from his young-readers novel (he’s also the author of the source novel for Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”), it’s a sweet, gentle story of two children connecting across time.
Ben (Oakes Fegley), in the 1970s Midwest, is facing the loss of his mother and, after a freak accident, his hearing. He runs away to New York in an attempt to track down his father; as, in the 1920s, does Rose (Millicent Simmonds), a lonely deaf girl from New Jersey who’s looking for her mother. Both end up at the American Museum of Natural History, gazing in awe at its wonders; both find, in that magical way of children’s literature, safe havens.
Like all of Haynes’ films (my favorites: “Carol,” “Far from Heaven”), “Wonderstruck” is beautifully shot, with the 1920s sequences in velvety black-and-white and the 1970s scenes in worn-soft browns and yellows. And it’s engagingly edited, with Ben’s story delicately interweaving with Rose’s right up to the fairy-tale ending. But it’s no easy trick to hang your film on the performances of children, and Haynes isn’t always able to elicit believable emotions from his young cast.
Movie Review ★★½
‘Wonderstruck,’ with Julianne Moore, Oakes Fegley, Millicent Simmonds, Jaden Michael, Cory Michael Smith, Tom Noonan, Michelle Williams. Directed by Todd Haynes, from a screenplay by Brian Selznick, based on Selznick’s novel. 115 minutes. Rated PG for thematic elements and smoking. Opens Nov. 3 at several theaters.
I left “Wonderstruck” dry-eyed but occasionally charmed, particularly by a sly reference to a beloved work of children’s literature (fans of “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” will recognize both a bookshop’s name and a covetable sleepover), and by the idea of Julianne Moore as a silent-film star. Shown briefly in “Daughter of the Storm,” a film-within-the-film in the 1920s segments (which, themselves, feel like a silent movie, reflecting the world that Rose lives in), she’s mesmerizing — eyes flashing, hair blowing, her expression an elaborate cry of desperation that deliciously blends both genuine emotion and a period-appropriate level of overplaying. Maybe Haynes will release that movie next? I’d watch.
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