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Wonderstruck – Movie Review

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Wonderstruck – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

Todd Haynes has a clear love for cinema, which is definitely evident in his Douglas Sirk homages, although Far from Heaven and Carol more than work as films on their own. Wonderstruck features a lot of obvious tributes to silent films and these are beautifully directed. However, the film is about more than that as it explores loss and finding one’s proper home. Haynes and writer Brian Selznick ask how we choose to remember those who have left us behind. Switching back and forth between time periods and focusing on two deaf children, they craft a family film that stands out among the rest.

At the start, Wonderstruck takes a little while getting used to. Haynes jumps us head first into the story and the editing could have used some tightening in the first act. Events happen rather quickly and the audience is meant to catch up at an enormous speed. One second, Michelle Williams is enchanting her young sons. A couple of scenes later, she has suddenly passed and it feels like an important moment has been cut. Oakes Fregley’s Ben seems to initially exist for the audience to project themselves onto. However, the script eventually gives him more purpose and development as the story goes on. One can see a lot of Selznick’s childhood and inspirations from his youth during Ben’s scenes as he travels to New York in 1977. Production designer Mark Friedberg does a particularly good job of replicating that period.

The strongest portions of Wonderstruck come courtesy of the scenes in 1927. Shot in black-and-white and featuring no dialogue, Haynes puts us into the mindset of the deaf girl Rose. Played with wide-eyed innocence by newcomer Millicent Simmonds, the viewer is sympathetic in her journey to find a famous screen actress. Choosing to exclude intertitles, Haynes shows the universalities of silent cinema as well as showing the difficulties Rose has to deal with. More than just emulating the style of silent films, Haynes brings his own spin. Lovers of classic silent pictures will recognise some nods, but Haynes doesn’t leave anyone out.

Haynes uses other techniques to draw us in, including using figurines and models in a particularly important scene. Wonderstruck is also unashamed of being a family film. Whether children embrace the film is yet to be seen, but Haynes definitely respects the younger audience enough to give them a story that uses emotion rather than simple humour to grab their attention. In an age where family films might feel like throwing in adult subject matter and humour to get an older viewer interested, Wonderstruck is refreshingly appropriate for all ages. This is not a story that requires foul language, brutal violence and sexual innuendos. A few shots of characters smoking was what likely attained the film a PG rating, but it’s otherwise a G picture.

Wonderstruck works as a solid companion piece to another Brian Selznick adaptation Hugo, as both feature a child-like adventure with homages to silent films sprinkled in. The two stories take a little while to get used to, but there is enough earned emotion and the journeys are worth following. Whether one is more invested in the ’27 scenes or the ’77 portions will depend on the individual viewer. The story does take some surprising turns and Todd Haynes shows a particular attention to detail when it comes to depicting the two eras. Eventually, the two stories blend beautifully and we accept them as part of the same film. This is a unique family film and one hopes it eventually finds a captivated audience from ages five to a hundred.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE

Stefan Ellison