Two different narratives 50 years apart drive the action in Todd Haynes latest film Wonderstruck. Both follow a child's search for a parent that also happens to be their first visit to New York City. In Gunflint, Minnesota Ben (Oakes Fegley) wakes up from a nightmare about wolves to see his cousin beside him. His mother Elaine (Michelle Williams) recently died leaving Ben to live with his Aunt and her family. His mother would not tell him any details about his dad waiting for the right time that never came. However Ben finds a book about museums among his mother's things along with a bookmark for a New York City bookstore. Wanting desperately to find out about his dad despite an unfortunate accident ventures to New York with this one clue in hand.
In 1927 Hoboken, Rose (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf living with her well to do father obsessed with silent film star Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore) Rose learns that her favourite actress is staring in a stage play in New York so she hops on the ferry for her first trip into the City greeted by the impressive cityscape as the ferry approaches the pier. The storyline jumps back and forth between the pair as they explore around the city both eventually ending up at the American Museum of Natural History. Each have an employee connection to the museum giving them unique access to the historical treasures.
Director Todd Haynes opts for black and white for the 1927 sections playing with a silent picture feel that comes off as being a bit too modern. The musical selections for this piece are often jarring when Rose has a conflict to try and indicated her emotions. Ben in 1977 comes out of the bus terminal to 70's funk music, big hair and bell-bottoms. Here we get one of the projects better transitions as we switch between Rose and Ben walking amongst a throng of humanity. The 70's New York looks more authentic with grainy bright colours abundance of graffiti and the expected ethnic mix just outside the port authority bus terminal where at 41st street meets 42.
Oakes Fegley and Millicent Simmonds share top billing as Ben and Rose. The pair are both adventurous and resourceful as they wander the city. It seems as though Ben is following in Rose's 50 year old footsteps as he looks at exhibits in the Museum especially when he stops to spend time at a large meteor that crashed to earth in 1902. The narrative transitioning from him reading the plaque to Rose running her hand across it.
Wonderstruck is a child focused film with a pair of youngsters searching for a family connection in the largest American city. Julianne Moore serves as the link between the pair strenthing the 70's storyline when she enters but the twenties tale weakens after she leaves that thread. The film has several good elements but the banal feel of the Rose thread leaves the piece wanting in the end.
** 1/2 Out of 4.
Wonderstruck | Todd Haynes | USA | 2017 | 117 minutes.
Tags: New York City, Minnesota, Hoboken, Ferry, Bus Terminal, Museum, Worlds Fair, Bookstore, Deaf, Sign Language, Electricity.