This film has far more meaning than it does entertainment value.
Here is the tragedy surrounding Director Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck. First of all, it is a two-hour film with an emotionally powerful theme and ending. Unfortunately, the first 80 minutes leave you confused to the point where you are repeatedly left guessing where this movie is heading.
Suffice it to say that it tells the story of two 12-year-old deaf children, one living in Minnesota in 1977 and the other in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927. They end up taking solo journeys to New York, and you quickly realize that these two young people’s lives are eventually going to intersect.
Additionally, this film is presented in a fashion that assumes many in the audience will be suffering some type of hearing loss. All of the English dialogue appears in subtitles, which includes a description of any background noise as well as the name of the songs composing the soundtrack. As a guy suffering a hearing loss to the point where I need to wear hearing aids, I considered this one of the highlights of the entire film.
The Minnesota boy, known as Ben, is suffering the loss of a mother who died in an accident while left trying to find a way to locate a father that he has never met. His story evolves on the screen in color as you would find in nearly all films.
Rose, our Hoboken girl, lives with a domineering father as she remains fascinated by an actress working in silent films. She wants to find a way to meet her, and her story plays out completely in black and white.
If this sounds a bit confusing, the film becomes more foolish before improving. Ben, who recently lost his hearing in a lightening strike, takes a Trailways bus to New York on his own. Once there, he quickly has all of his money stolen from him on the street while hunting for a bookstore that he believes will help him find his dad. As he wanders alone, it becomes increasingly hard to understand how he could escape the hands of some deviate vagabond lurking in an alley.
As for Rose, she also journeys to New York where her experiences become almost as hard to accept as Ben’s. Suffice it to say that both end up in the Museum of Natural History, and the film picks up a bit of steam as the camera covers some of the magnificent sights in that museum.
Regardless of the film’s weakness, the performances of Oakes Fegley as Ben and Millicent Simmonds as Rose are splendid by any definition. While there is very little dialogue in the entire film, these two kids give moving performances.
Let me close by mentioning two other performances of interest. Jaden Michael plays Jamie, a young kid in New York who befriends Ben. Additionally, Julianne Moore plays two characters just as she did in the regrettable Surburbicon. One of them is the actress who Rose wanted to meet in 1927 and the other involves her appearing as Rose herself in 1977.
As noted, the film has some meaningful charm, so wait to watch it at home when you are trying to recover from a regrettable day.