When a filmmaker known for adult fare tackles something more geared at kids, there’s always a fascination. As we saw with Martin Scorsese and Hugo, there’s also the chance for something that can be widely embraced. It doesn’t happen all that often though, as it can feel limiting. This week, Todd Haynes goes that route with Wonderstruck, which opens in limited release and also like Hugo is an adaptation of a Brian Selznick book. Ever since it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, there have been fans of Haynes’ work here, which extended to the New York Film Festival recently, where it was the Centerpiece Selection. It doesn’t have the usual Oscar buzz of his movies, but honestly…that remains to be seen.
The film is a coming of age tale, in a way. It tells the story of a young boy in the Midwest named Ben (Oakes Fegley) who loses his hearing in a freak accident, while telling simultaneously the tale of a young girl named Rose (Millicent Simmonds) in New York from fifty years ago as they both seek the same mysterious connection. They’re in two very distinct time periods, but their paths will ultimately cross in a fairly touching way. Of note, one segment (Rose’s childhood) is done completely silently, which should perk up cinephiles even more. It’s very visual stuff, relying more on images than on actual story. Haynes directs the script that Selznick penned, adapting his own novel. The cast also includes Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Jaden Michael, Tom Noonan, Damian Young, Amy Hargreaves, and more. Cinematography is by the legendary Edward Lachman, while Carter Burwell does the score.
With all due respect to the movie, which looks great, it’s frankly quite boring. There’s one amazing moment, when Moore’s character tells a story in the third act, but that was the only thing that captivated me. Visually, it’s well done, which goes without saying, considering Lachman is behind the camera. Burwell’s score is top notch too, so Haynes has all the technical prowess on display that you’d expect from him. The story and pacing just let him down this time around. It’s middle of the road work for the filmmaker, which doesn’t mean you should dismiss it. It simply means you should keep your expectations in check.
The more targeted a campaign for Wonderstruck, the more likely it is to crack through to the Academy. Amazon Studios could go all out though, making efforts in categories like Best Picture, Best Director (for Haynes), Best Actor (for Fegley), Best Actress (for Simmonds), Best Supporting Actress (for Moore and Williams), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Selznick), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score. However, where the focus should be is really only on Cinematography and Original Score. Those are the gettable citations, at least in my humble opinion. Anything else seems like a long shot in the end for the film.
Come this weekend, fans of Haynes (or Selznick for that matter) will get something a bit different to sink their teeth into with Wonderstruck. Even if it didn’t do a whole lot for me, it has a chance to find an audience. The more open minded and patient you are, the more likely it is to work. That’s normally the case for me, but for some reason, this just fell flat. Obviously, make up your own mind about it. The movie is unique, and that’s undeniably something good in the marketplace these days. Give it a look if you’re interested and see what you think…
Be sure to check out Wonderstruck, beginning its theatrical run on Friday!