Wonderstruck: Beautiful But Gives Away Twists

Fifty years apart, Rose (Millicent Simmonds) and Ben (Oakes Fegley) brave New York City alone in "Wonderstruck"

Fifty years apart, Rose (Millicent Simmonds) and Ben (Oakes Fegley) brave New York City alone in “Wonderstruck”

by Sandra Olmsted

Director Todd Haynes, well-known for his striking visual storytelling, ravishingly adapts author-illustrator-screenwriter Brian Selznick’s 2011 epic fable, the illustrated novel of the same name mostly with images which are an homage to gorgeously intense silent films, at least in the scenes set in 1927. Obvious bound to intersect, Wonderstruck’s two stories parallel each other as two children set off on life-altering quests.

   Wonderstruck opens in 1977 rural Minnesota with 12-year-old (shown above) Ben (Oakes Fegley) mourning his mother Elaine (Michelle Williams) and regretting, in flashbacks, that she never revealed anything about his father. While going through her belongings, he finds a love note and the name Kincaid Books in New York City. As he dials the number, lightning strikes, and, despite being rendered deaf by the electric shock, Ben soon sets off to find the note’s author.

Intercut with Ben’s quest is Rose’s (Millicent Simmonds) 1927 quest to meet her favorite screen star, Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore), in New York City. Rose has been deaf since birth, and she hates her domineering father and loves the silent films which tell stories so well. Once in New York she also searches for her beloved brother, Walter (Cory Michael Smith), who recent took a job at the American Museum of Natural History.

While there’s a surprise in Rose’s relationship with Mayhew, Ben is at the mercy of a tougher city and his lack of skill in maneuvering a far-too-silent world. Eventually, he is befriended by Jamie (Jaden Michael), a lonely bi-racial kid, whose busy father works in the museum.

In supporting roles, the stellar adult cast delivers excellent portrayals; however, the youngsters steal the film. Up-and-comer Fegley, who  starred in Pete’s Dragon, is settle and controlled; Simmonds, who is deaf, makes her debut with a breakout performance, and Michael, who has a hefty filmography, exudes energetic friendship. Haynes use beautiful silent-film, black-and-white cinema and the deep-focus of 1970s color cinema to distinguish between 1927 and 1977. He also uses silences to great advantage and music to differentiate the time periods, so listen carefully to the soundtrack. Wonderstruck, an Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions release, runs 116 minutes and is rated PG for thematic elements and smoking. Wonderstruck opens in theaters Nov. 10.

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