BFI London Film Festival: Wonderstruck

Wonderstruck
Wonderstruck
Directed by Todd Haynes
Starring Julianne Moore, Oakes Fegley, Millicent Simmonds, Jaden Michael, Cory Michael Smith and Tom Noonan
Screening at LFF October 5th, 6th, 8th, 2017
In US cinemas October 20th, 2017

by Joanna Orland

Visually pleasing and musically interesting, Wonderstruck falls short of striking. Todd Haynes brings author Brian Selznick’s illustrated young adult novel to life, albeit without a particular audience in mind. Too slow for youth, too twee for adults, Wonderstruck exists more comfortably as an art piece than as a narrative film.

Highly imaginative in execution, Haynes’ direction of Wonderstruck is playfully cinematic. Flashing between parallel stories in two different eras, the visuals and music adjust accordingly. In 1927, a young deaf girl Rose runs away to New York to find her mother, while in 1977, a recently deafened boy Ben flees to New York in search of his father.

1927 New York is portrayed in black and white, and from the deaf girl’s perspective it is silent like the films of the time. The accompanying score is inspired directly by the era, as if it were accompanying a silent film – heightened by every minimal drama on screen. 1977 New York is illuminated by a 1970’s colour palette, the musical score evolving into the disco, glam and funk style of this particular era. The feel of the 1970’s has never been so well recreated on screen.

The story flashes seamlessly back and forth between Rose and Ben as they follow their mirrored paths. Rose’s story is set in the film’s past while Ben’s in present day. Rose’s story plays out clearly, while Ben’s is shrouded in mystery. The film eludes to magical coincidences, but when the answers Ben seeks reveal themselves to be based in logical realism, the spell of the film is quickly broken.

The film builds up Ben’s mystery and as he is dumbfounded with every plot development, so is the audience. He often screams “What is going on?”, begging for explanation. So are we, but when we get it, we are disappointed. At least Ben’s journey to New York has been more fruitful than ours watching this film.

Lacking the ability to engage its audience in the narrative, Wonderstruck coasts effortlessly on its unique execution. After a while, it’s hard to keep your distance as the visual and aural experience will suck you in. But then sadly, the narrative, or lack thereof, will spit you out.



 

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