Based on the critically acclaimed book, Wonderstruck is an unusual film in terms of style, structure and content. The movie tells two separate stories set 50 years apart from the 1920s to the late 1970s about two children with a mysterious connection. The first story focuses on a young boy named Ben played by Pete’s Dragon star Oakes Fegley whose life is not that great. His mother has passed away and to make matters worse he suffers an accident that leaves him without the ability to hear. The second story focuses on a young deaf girl named Rose (Millicent Simmonds) living outside of New York City during the Roaring 20s who has some family issues of her own. Each of the kid’s stories end up with them running around The Big Apple on their own in two entirely different time periods as the audience begins to realize there could be a connection between these two strangers separated by 50 years.
Wonderstruck presents two varying styles for each story it presents in the film. In Ben’s story we get an authentic look at 1970s New York City and how big the city looked through the eyes of a child. It’s dirty, dangerous and full of nostalgia for New Yorkers who remember what it was like living in the city before it was cleaned up a few decades later. The second story operates as a back and white silent film at times with the audience being forced to read lips just as Rose would. Wonderstruck definitely puts you in the shoes of the hearing impaired in both stories and director Todd Haynes uses the silent film tactics to create a mood and feel for the story that works well in certain situations as our characters deal with their particular crisis.
Director Todd Haynes takes an ambitious approach adapting Wonderstruck to the big screen, but at times the weight of the ambitions drag down the film. Skipping in between stories is always a risk having the viewer settled into one story, only to break their attention by placing them in an entirely different plot line that doesn’t make sense until the end of the film. The back and forth prevents the movie from running smooth and can be frustrating watch, especially for those who are unable to read lips in certain parts of Wonderstruck. The project also has a “That’s it?” feeling to the conclusion, which almost comes across as ridiculous rather than sweet as it attempts to tie the two simultaneous narratives together.
Haynes paints a beautiful picture for the audience creating a love letter of sorts to New York City’s past, but the beauty of Wonderstruck doesn’t always make up for the lackluster story telling and uneven pace that will have many asking what was the point of it all. The one saving grace in the film that makes up for the visible flaws are the performances of the two young actors. Both Millicent Simmonds (who is deaf in real life) and Oakes Fegley carry this film on their little shoulders creating two characters that audience care about. You fear for them, feel sad for them and hope they find what they are looking for on their separate journeys. Simmonds conveys various emotions through facial expressions and just by a look she gives her cast mate. The two young actors manage to make this film worth a watch on a rainy day despite the issues that prevent Wonderstruck from truly being the special experience it had the potential to be.
Overall, I give Wonderstruck 2.75 out of 4 stars.
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