Cert: PG Runtime: 116 mins Director: Todd Haynes Cast: Millicent Simmonds, Oakes Fegley, Michelle Williams, Jaden Michael and Julianne Moore
Todd Haynes gave cinema a true masterclass with Carol a few years ago. He follows it up with Wonderstruck based on the book by Bryan Selznick. One of Cannes biggest films seems to have faltered during it’s release worldwide. People haven’t reached out to his work, but Haynes is used to it! It’s not even out in the UK until April!!! During my Christmas break I was fortunate enough to watch it in Amsterdam, so my wait was cut short. So what is Wonderstruck all about? Ben (Oakes Fegley) and Rose (Millicent Simmonds) are children from two different eras who secretly wish that their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he’s never known, while Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue and Rose reads an enticing headline, they both set out on epic quests to find what they’re missing.
Going into Wonderstruck without knowing its source novel, I could only judge and how it worked as the film I was watching, and it worked splendidly. It took me about ten minutes to get into its conceit and once there I was with it the entire time. Wonderstruck is a beautifully told story that surprises you because there is little dialogue. The story ties together two deaf children, a girl in 1927, and a boy in 1977, both of whom go to New York searching for family but discover more than expected at the Natural History Museum. The 1927 scenes are shot in black and white and take on that slightly frantic pace old silent films have, where everyone seems to walk just a little too briskly. The 1977 scenes are the exact opposite, with vivid, colourful clothing, filmed in a slow, languid, hot summer style.
When words are spoken, they are sometimes shown from the perspective of the children, without subtitles, but these aren’t necessary as the stories unfold into each other, with some surprising results. Wonderstruck is a lovely evocation of the nervous energy and creativity of youth and the joyful quiet of being deaf. Regardless of physical challenges, the film embraces our early search to connect with parents and set loose the creative energy latent in youth. Both Millicent Simmonds and Oakes Fegley give stellar performances, they enhance Haynes vision. Not everyone will have the patience to go with Haynes’ vision, but, for those of us that do, it’s quite satisfying.