Wonderstruck

 

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An unusual American feature seeking to appeal to children and also to adult audiences.


Wonderstruck

Silent movie: Millicent Simmonds

 

Before seeing this new film from Todd Haynes, I had heard that it had divided audiences with many viewers claiming to have been struck by dismay rather than by wonder. Sadly, that is a verdict that I have to endorse despite acknowledging Haynes's admirable willingness to tackle fresh ground. Wonderstruck has a screenplay by Brian Selznick which is an adaptation of his own young adult novel. That fact alone confirms that this is new territory for Haynes, but at the same time the nature of the tale told does offer him the opportunity to be adventurous in the film technique adopted and that is the kind of thing that has always appealed to him.

 

Wonderstruck centres on a young hero, Ben (Oakes Fegley), and a young heroine, Rose (Millicent Simmonds), both of whom are disadvantaged by being deaf and yet are capable of acting with resolve. Rose, seeking to escape a harsh father, leaves New Jersey for New York and Ben sets out for the same destination following the death of his mother in a car accident, his aim being to find the man who was his father. The novelty here (and Wonderstruck can at least claim to have that quality) lies in the fact that despite us following them on this comparable journey Rose is living in 1927 and Ben fifty years later.

 

The parallels in these two intercut tales are such that it is no surprise when eventually the two narratives link up and merge into one. However, the time gap encourages Haynes to present Rose's period tale in black and white and, even though the visuals are in 'Scope, it adopts the format of silent cinema by excluding all dialogue. This device may seem merely odd to young viewers while adults will find that in echoing silent screen styles Haynes can't settle on an effective approach since his film hovers between straight narrative, parody and pastiche. Furthermore, neither this segment touching on Rose's admiration for an actress (Julianne Moore) nor Ben's tale, incorporating his developing friendship with a boy from Queen's named Jamie (Jaden Michael outplaying Fegley), provide enough dramatic impact to prevent the film from seeming seriously overextended at 116 minutes.

 

Back in 1969, in a very different film, Pasolini demonstrated in Pigsty how to cut back and forth between two narratives while always ensuring that each advanced by segments that satisfied but left one welcoming the variety whenever he moved from one to the other. Here, in contrast, the sense we get is of switching uneasily and all too frequently from one to the other without any compelling build up taking place in either. The weakness of the concept in this case is proved all too clearly when the last quarter (providing Moore with a second role) becomes a single narrative and, late in the day though it is, our interest perks up immediately. But, regardless of distant but intriguing echoes of the Japanese animated feature When Marnie Was There (2014) which emerge in the storyline at this point, this happens too late on for Wonderstruck to be a success. Bravely different though the film is, it doesn't work.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Oakes Fegley, Millicent Simmonds, Julianne Moore, Jaden Michael, Michelle Williams, Tom Noonan, Cory Michael Smith, James Urbaniak, Damian Young, Ekaterina Samsonov.

 

Dir Todd Haynes, Pro Pamela Koffler, John Sloss and Christine Vachon, Screenplay Brian Selznick, from his book, Ph Ed Lachman, Pro Des Mark Friedberg, Ed Affonso Gonçalves, Music Carter Burwell, Costumes Sandy Powell.

 

Amazon Studios/Killer Content/Cinetic Media-StudioCanal.
116 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 6 April 2018. Cert. PG
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