Wonderstruck Review

Graceful and quite literally quiet, “Wonderstruck” makes for an unconventional (or at least uncommercial) family film, but one worth enduring thanks to director Todd Haynes, the cast and composer Carter Burwell. 

Written by Brian Selznick, who authored the book as well as the book that became Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” “Wonderstruck” tells the story of a young boy in 1977 and a young girl in 1927 who take on New York City in search of secrets and a sense of belonging. Ben (Oakes Fegley) is a boy living in Minnesota whose just lost his mother and never knew his father, but has a lead pointing him to NYC; Rose (Millicent Simmonds) is a girl living in New Jersey who is deaf and feels misunderstood by her father in a world unkind to those with disabilities. She takes the ferry across the river to find silent film star Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore).

Much like “Hugo,” Selznick’s story is a love letter (in this case to silent film, New York City and museums) wrapped up in a tale of children escaping challenging circumstances in search of answers and finding friendship along the way. The key difference is that “Hugo” is a more focused mystery that moves concretely from A to B to C, etc. Haynes approaches “Wonderstruck” as more of an art piece that glides about, with both storylines slowly yet inevitably intertwining. The “Carol” and “Far From Heaven” director crafts a seamless audio-visual experience that makes a gentle appeal to our own sense of wonder.

Consequently, “Wonderstruck” will have trouble captivating audiences; children should definitely see it, but not necessarily children with short attention spans. The effort to play off silent films through the lens of deafness has great artistic and even educational value, but entertainment-wise it leaves something to be desired. As thoughtfully as Haynes switches between timelines and contrasts “hearing” scenes with “non-hearing” scenes to affect our perspective, graceful transitions can only be so riveting.

Children will for sure not notice Burwell’s score that establishes place, time and wonderment extremely well. He even underscores moments of action, suspense and surprise in the way a silent film score would back in the ’20s. These are just some of the artistic touches that make “Wonderstruck” special for adults whose tastes incline them toward films that appreciate history, the arts and other intellectual subjects.

One of the most critical artistic touches comes at the end of the film with an entire sequence told using models and dioramas. It also ties together the entire plot, so a lot hinges on it. It is both a beautiful conclusion and somewhat anti-climactic given that the reveals are not all that surprising (at least to an adult viewer). Yet the point is not for any startling revelations, but for the characters to come to terms with the answers they find and embrace the good that came from the journey.


3.5/5 Stars


Directed by Todd Haynes
Written by Brian Selznick (based on his novel)
Starring: Oakes Fegley, Millicent Simmonds, Julianne Moore


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