'Wonderstruck' Doubles Down On The Slowly Unravelling Mysteries

By James Jay Edwards
Released: November 3, 2017
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The story of a young boy in the Midwest is told simultaneously with a tale about a young girl in New York from fifty years ago as they both seek the same mysterious connection.

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Film Review
From Velvet Goldmine to Carol, director Todd Haynes has proven himself to be both a competent and versatile filmmaker. Wonderstruck proves it even further.

Wonderstruck tells the story of a young boy in 1977 Minnesota named Ben (Oakes Fegley from Pete's Dragon) who goes deaf after a freak accident. When his librarian mother (Manchester by the Sea's Michelle Williams) dies, Ben runs off to New York City in search of his father. Wonderstruck also tells the story of a young deaf New Jersey girl named Rose (first-time actress Millicent Simmonds) who, fifty years earlier, travels to New York City to see her idol, a famous silent film actress named Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore from Still Alice and Suburbicon). Through the intercut stories, the journeys of the two children unfold until both of their mysteries are solved.

Wonderstruck, photo courtesy Amazon Studios 2017.

Author Brian Selznick (Hugo) adapted his own novel into the screenplay for Wonderstruck, so the overall vision of the book remains intact in the movie. The two stories are presented parallelly, but they also intersect fifty years apart. There is never a feeling that the two narratives are unrelated, and indeed, in the end, they are not. For a movie that is split into two separate alternating plots, Wonderstruck is very coherent.

Todd Haynes approaches the narrative of Wonderstruck with respect for both the script and his actors, so the film has a very collaborative vibe to it. The primary characters are children, so Wonderstruck does come off as a kid's adventure movie at times, but the plot is intriguing enough to keep the adults interested as well, and since everyone was a kid once, the film is relatable on all levels. Kids' stuff, but the grown-ups will like it, too.

Wonderstruck, photo courtesy Amazon Studios 2017.

There is a bit of a disconnect at the end of the film. Without giving anything away, let's just say that the ending of Wonderstruck is a bit of a copout, feeling a little like Haynes and Selznick backed themselves into a corner and had to deus ex machina their way out. It doesn't ruin the film by any means, but it does lessen the experience a bit.

Even with the unsatisfying conclusion, Wonderstruck is an enjoyable movie. It's two slowly unravelling mysteries for the price of one, and it's presented with a ton of heart and soul, and even with a touch of humor. It's not Todd Haynes' best work, but it's close.
The score for Wonderstruck is a blast, and considering that the film has long stretches of dialogue-less imagery, there is plenty of music to be heard in it. Written by prolific film composer Carter Burwell (Anomalisa, Goodbye Christopher Robin), the music is as neatly divided into two parts as the rest of the movie is. The twenties sections of the film are accompanied by period-sounding percussive music that still comes off as slickly modern. The seventies parts of the film feature transitional music that is mostly made up of cool piano and simmering organ pieces. Both sections include a handful of hip jazzy tunes tossed in for authenticity's sake. The incidental music is perfect as well, background music that fills the holes without stealing the thunder from the story or the actors. Music is of the utmost importance in a movie where the two main characters are both deaf, and Burwell's score for Wonderstruck fits the film like a glove.

Wonderstruck, photo courtesy Amazon Studios 2017.

Drama, Family, Mystery
Release Date
November 3, 2017
MPAA Rating
Brian Selznick
Production Designer
Casting Director
Music Score