Hot Take: A well done dual tale that intertwines two different time periods thanks to masterful directing from Todd Haynes. A little slow but worth the wait.
Sometimes a film can find its way into theaters without me knowing much about it. That’s always exciting for me. When it does happen, I purposely avoid trailers and descriptions so that I can walk in completely fresh. This year, there have been two such films that I can recall to accomplish such a feat. The first was True to the Game which came out in September and disappeared from theaters almost as quickly as it came. The second was Wonderstruck, a much different film than True to the Game featuring the directing stylings of Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, I’m Not There, Carol) and based on a 2011 novel by Brian Selznick. The result, for me, was more poetic as Wonderstruck, because of my lack of background information, added more wonderment than your typical film as I had no idea what I was in store for. While the film plodded along at times, the two main stories were interesting enough that I was engaged in the story throughout and thanks to two very good performances from two young actors (Oakes Fegley and Millicent Simmonds), the film is a very good cinematic experience more for film buffs rather than moviegoers, if you can understand the difference between the two.
Set fifty years apart, the film tells the story of Ben (Fegley), a young boy in Minnesota in 1977 who recently lost his mother and runs away to New York to find his father whom he’s never met but finds clues to his identity while suffering an accident that causes him to lose his hearing and Rose, a young deaf girl in New Jersey in 1927 who runs away to New York to find a big screen star (Julianne Moore in one of her two roles in the film). The 1977 scenes have incredible detail and authenticity that you’d almost swear it was filmed in 1977 somehow and the 1927 scenes are treated as scenes from silent films of yesterday which attempts and modestly succeeds to deliver the young girl’s challenges with being deaf. Ben’s recent deafness is treated a little bit differently and at times Haynes’ decision to bounce back and forth between silence and noise feels unnecessary as there’s no trigger for scenes where we get to experience things from Ben’s situation. There are times where the two stories feel completely unconnected other than the two character’s hearing plight but, eventually, both stories weave together in a way that when stepping back feels far-fetched but what makes this film work is that while you’re watching it unfold, it all feels plausible.
While the description here is brief, you already know more about the film than I did walking in and I think the best way to come into Wonderstruck is completely cold and unassuming. If you find yourself turned off by cinematic experiences that aren’t typically box office friendly and often mentioned for Awards but grab little attention from the mainstream moviegoer, Wonderstruck is an experience you’re not likely to enjoy. However, if you find yourself often asking yourself why certain films do poorly at the box office when you feel they deserve more notoriety, Wonderstruck is likely to be one of those films which you walk away from asking similar questions. In just 261 theaters in its fourth week of release, Wonderstruck has probably reached its widest audience and, so far, has failed to light up the cash register which means, if you are going to see it in theaters, you’re window is closing quickly. They have to clear 4,100+ screens for Justice League, after all.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- This Time Julianne Moore’s Dual Roles Work
I was less than impressed by Moore’s dual roles in Suburbicon but that wasn’t her fault. It was a terrible movie. Here in Wonderstruck, Moore gets another opportunity to play dual roles and delivers two very solid performances.
- Capturing the Mood of the Time
Haynes’ choice to portray the 1927 story as a silent film complete with this time period being shot in black and white is successful and the asthetics of the 1977 story are as well done in capturing the time period as he’s ever done which is a lot to say considering his efforts with Carol and Velvet Goldmine. Even if the story doesn’t thrill, visually Wonderstruck is a marvel.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Occasionally Plodding
There are times where Wonderstruck trips over itself and gets caught up in the mechanism of switching back and forth between time periods rather than storytelling. It’s a minor flaw and one that’s more nuisance than deal breaker but it keeps Wonderstruck off the “Best of 2017” list and relegates it to the very good list.