Wonderstruck (2017)

A languidly-paced work that has a great concept exploring human connections across time, with some moments of sublime filmmaking, but Haynes’ overall grasp of tone and thematic intent is a letdown.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Review #2,060

Dir. Todd Haynes
2017 | USA | Drama/Mystery | 116 mins | 2.35:1 | English & Spanish
PG (passed clean) for thematic elements and smoking

Cast: Oakes Fegley, Millicent Simmonds, Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams
Plot: The story of a young boy in the Midwest is told simultaneously with a tale about a young girl in New York from fifty years ago as they both seek the same mysterious connection.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: FilmNation

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Connection, Time, Destiny
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: CatchPlay
Spoilers: No

Fresh from the high of Carol (2015), one of the finest LGBT films of the decade, Todd Haynes’ follow-up, Wonderstruck, is a letdown.  It’s an admirable creative effort though, full of ambition with a great concept exploring human connections across time. 

Adapted by Brian Selznick from his book of the same name, Wonderstruck is essentially two tales in one, separated by time, and in the case of Haynes’ artistic treatment, by colour. 

In colour, we have Ben (Oakes Fegley from 2016’s Pete’s Dragon), a young boy who runs away from his guardians to find his long-missing father after a freak accident causes him to lose his hearing. 

In contrasting black-and-white, a deaf young girl (Millicent Simmonds from 2018’s A Quiet Place) from half a century earlier, searches for a silent cinema actress whom she has a deep interest in. 

“How do you know my name?”

Not surprisingly, Haynes, with his frequent DP Edward Lachman, shoots the latter narrative like a silent film, with minimal dialogue and relying a lot on Carter Burwell’s music to carve out emotional beats. 

Julianne Moore has a key role, while Michelle Williams offers a short cameo, but despite good performances all-round, particularly from the young actors, Wonderstruck’s main problem is Haynes’ weak overall grasp of tone and thematic intent—attempts at trying to bridge the two narratives together through seamless audiovisual match cuts, geography and similar narrative arcs feel unnatural and forced. 

The film’s languid pacing also doesn’t help its cause (and was also a problem in Haynes’ latest Dark Waters).  At some point in Wonderstruck, one might ask: yes, it’s beautiful with some moments of sublime filmmaking, but to what end? 

Are we supposed to see it as a sensitively-drawn picture about disability and destiny, or a cosmic intervention between two connected stories?  Maybe it’s both… and possibly more, but Haynes’ execution never takes it to that level by its denouement. 

Grade: C+



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