Wonderstruck tells two stories that intertwine in a very interesting way. Enter Rose (Millicent Simmonds), a young girl living in New Jersey circa 1927. Rose runs away from home to find her idol, actress Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore) in New York City. Her world is presented in black and white and with a score (by maestro Carter Burwell) which spotlights Rose’s tale.
The second storyline follows Ben (Oakes Fegley), a young boy living in Minnesota circa 1977. His father is out of the picture, leaving his mother (Michelle Williams) in a depressive state. Ben becomes deaf after a bolt of lightning shocks him traumatically. Newly deaf, Ben runs away from home to New York City as well, in the hopes of finding his father. Along the way, he befriends Jamie (Jaden Michael) and goes on various adventures, most notably in the American Museum of Natural History… after hours.
With so many mindless blockbusters littering movie theaters this past summer, it’s refreshing to see a fall film that is smart, engaging, and presents a moving story. Wonderstruck is an epic in its own quiet way and the acting is solid across the board. The two lead child actors are definitely worth noting. Young Millicent Simmonds, an actual deaf actress, says nothing throughout the film yet makes a profound statement with her facial expressions and pure star power aura.
Oakes Fegley also steals the show as an angry young man that will stop at nothing to find his dad, a journey that leads him into some very unique situations. Fegley is also a young star on the rise and if he continues to deliver fantastic performances like this, he is bound for a very successful career.
This is a film that focuses on kids and while the supporting cast is strong, it is the youngsters that really own this film. Having said that, Julianne Moore provides a little celebrity presence here. The same can be said for Michelle Williams whose performance is downright tragic and raw.
Director Todd Haynes (Carol, I’m Not There) has taken author Brian Selznick’s novel Wonderstruck and added some really impressive visual touches. The 1927 scenes are delightfully black and white, a lovely homage to that cinematic time period and the scenes in 1977 are perfectly represented with grit and grain, not to mention featuring a funky soundtrack.
Wonderstruck isn’t for everyone and while the story can get a little tricky to follow, it’s the performances that keep it afloat. If any film required multiple viewings, it’s certainly this one because it raises a few questions and during its 117-minute runtime, we get one heck of a special ride. Wonderstruck is definitely high on my radar.