Quick Hit: Beautiful but with no substance, much like a good Angel Food cake (Quarantine methaphors).
Todd Haynes is a cinephile – of that I have no doubt. Watching through his filmography, it’s very easy to see that he misses the bygone areas of years past – most specifically, that specific aesthetic that you find in large cities. His films mimic his interests (as do most artists creations) – they are beautiful things that are full of well-constructed sets and costumes. Wonderstruck, based on a book by Brian Selznick, follows this same thread. And that is today’s review.
Wonderstruck follows the intertwined paths of two 12 year old children. One is Ben, played by Oakes Fegley (of Pete’s Dragon fame). He’s a young boy that loses his mother (Michelle Williams) and never met his father, and to top it all off, a freak lightning accident leaves him mostly deaf. 50 years before, there was another child without hearing (Millicent Simmonds, whose actually deaf, and whose expressive face was used just as well in A Quiet Place) who is traveling around New York trying to find her favorite star (played by the lovely Julianne Moore).
I’ll get this out of the way first – the movie technically is gorgeous. The shots with Simmonds in particular are crafted in a way that reflects the silent films of yore. It couples well with the world that she would live in as a deaf child. It’s also really fun to watch the time lapse between the two children. The set design is extraordinary – no detail seemed too small to recreate for either era that the children are living in. It’s really beautiful.
It’s unfortunate that the rest of the film doesn’t seem to line up with that. It seems like Haynes is so obsessed with the look that the story fades into the background. There’s plenty to like about the story – the parallels between the characters, the story of children overcoming disabilities; the issue is that this is all glazed over. There is little to no discussion or exposition (which does seem to fit with hearing impaired characters), but it means that the last 20 minutes of the film are a giant dump of exposition. It also means that there are some stretches that are fairly boring. For a movie that is designed to be for children, there isn’t a lot to really keep their attention.
I really like the performance of Simmonds, but Fegley isn’t really enough to command a screen presence as large as he gets. Like I said, it means that without the exposition, you feel like you are just mainly watching a really pretty picture. It’d almost be better to have the film be entirely silent, because then you could expect it.
So is it worth watching? Maybe. The technical aspects are really great. But the story is lacking, which is why this one gets a middling grade. I’m giving it a “C-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"