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‘Wonderstruck’ (review)

Produced by Pamela Koffler,
John Sloss, Christine Vachon

Screenplay by Brian Selznick
Based on Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Directed by Todd Haynes
Starring Oakes Fegley, Julianne Moore,
Michelle Williams, Millicent Simmonds,
Cory Michael Smith, James Urbaniak

 

It’s always interesting to see how one form of media can be translated into another.

For instance, there are so many amazing films out there that first started on the bookshelf. But when we go to the movies it’s expected to be a more engaging experience than reading quietly alone.

Instead, director Todd Haynes drags out what could have been a charming and magical tale brought to life and instead leaves you in the dark waiting impatiently for someone to turn the pages.

Wonderstruck is about Ben (Oakes Fegley) a young boy who, having recently lost both his mother and his hearing, travels to 1970s New York to find his absent father. 50 years prior to that a young girl named Rose (Millicent Simmonds) who was born deaf has a similar journey. As they each try to find their place in the city, their tales merge in a surprising and touching way.

Much of the movie is dependent on lush visuals rather than explanatory prose. It truly has a storybook feel, with carefully crafted scenes that could each be paused and printed. The silent exaggeration of expressions in Rose’s story made me wish that her section lasted significantly longer. Millicent Simmonds is a gift to watch as she puts a sense of wonder and charm into every movement. As we watch her try to navigate a world where she cannot communicate through voice or sign language, her liveliness keeps hope in the picture.

Hers is a story full of light and hope, and in contrast to Ben which has significantly more sharp edges. His hope is clearly clouded by frustration from being newly deaf and his emotions vary wildly. Fegley shows that he has some range, and it will be interesting to see him progress as his career goes on. The juxtaposition of the two New York’s from both the twenties and the 70s works wonderfully to show not just how separate but also how incredibly similar their worlds were. The black and white tableau of the New York skyline from the ferry looks like it could have been plucked out of a newsreel, and is in stark contrast to the warm Technicolor tones of 70s Manhattan.

As beautiful as the movie is however, It suffers greatly from a dragging pace. Constantly I found myself willing seems to be over so that we could move forward with a plot that hasn’t been explained even halfway through the movie. The “Big Reveal” at the end came too late and was too contrived to mean anything after sitting and waiting for anything to happen in the previous hour and a half. The always charming Julianne Moore could not save the end of this movie, though her performance brings a bright note and clarity to an otherwise Meandering film.

Like a classic children’s picture book, this is a story told mainly through imagery and suggestion instead of lengthy prose. But due to an big reveal that comes far after anyone would have vested in the characters, we are left with an unsatisfactory ending. Wonderstruck is certainly a beautifully-crafted tale, but what does that matter when you are unable to keep your eyes open to see it?

 

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