Language: English, American Sign Language
Genre: Drama, Family, Mystery
Director: Todd Haynes
Screenplay: Brian Selznick, based on his own book
Music: Carter Burwell
Cinematography: Edward Lachman
Cory Michael Smith
On the heel of his universally acclaimed pièce-de-résistence CAROL (2015), Todd Haynes’ seventh picture WONDERSTRUCK has been given the short shrift ever since its debut in Cannes’ main competition, what is the verdict? Not near the vicinity of the same luster and sophistication of CAROL, but adapted from Brian Selznick’s eponymous children book, it is, for the very least, an earnest project pulls its back into a dual time-frames narrative with gumption challenging audience’s accepted optic and aural rules (a close kin to Hayne’s debut POISON, a triptych with disparate visual ploys).
Opening in 1977, Minnesota, a 12-year-old Ben (Fegley) loses his single-mother Elaine (Williams) to a car accident, is struck by lightning and becomes deaf, double hammer, indeed. Absconding from hospital, he goes to NYC to seek out his biological father whom he has never met with only the address of a bookshop as his clue. This is the main story-line, which is juxtaposed with a black-and-white silent byplay takes place half-a-century ago, in the year 1927, the birth of sound cinema, concerning a deaf girl Rose (Simmonds, a feisty heroine in the making, who is deaf in real life), who sets out to look for her idol, silent movie star Lillian Mayhew (Moore), and later wanders alone in American Museum of Nature History, bewitched and plays hide-and-seek with suspicious guards. This is the place where Ben fetches up too, after following an African-American boy Jamie (Michael), who introduces him his inner sanctum with discoveries can only be attributed to kismet.
By the time when Ben finally meets an elderly Rose (Moore again, in prosthetics) in the said bookshop, their connection is hovering around long enough to for viewers to infer the most probable answer and bingo! The missing pieces are told with stop-motion animation and cunning bricolages, when the pair sits inside the Queens Museum where a huge diorama of the whole city is in display (a synecdoche of Ben’s father’s life’s work), all under a muted palette complying with Haynes’ reimagining of the epoch.
First and foremost, the film pays hallowed homage to the soundless world and its dwellers, conscientiously applying notepads and sign language to explicate the narrative, and accompanied by Carter Burwell’s fluent score (a lilting escapade in the silent segment), the outcome eclipses the blasé urtext and Moore straightens up an almost tear-jerking payoff in her wordless portrayal that is anything but showy. But not mincing words, a bratty, self-absorbed Oakes Fegley proves to be a monkey wrench in the works, brings ruination to the friendship with Jamie, which in another case, would be the emotional pull of the story.
A children’s fare vamped up with a grownup’s world-view and wheezes, WONDERSTRUCK is an anomaly to both targets, callow ones might find it rather unexciting in terms of story development, whereas weathered ones probably will whinge there isn’t enough time to submerge into Haynes’ rabbit hole, a sorry example of 1 plus 1 ends up less than 2.