"Intertwining two different decades and movie-making styles together is a clever idea"
Directed by Todd Haynes, Wonderstruck is a poetic gem that analyses grief and finding the place where you belong by mixing magic and reality in one single package. After losing his mother, Ben wants to finally know who is father is.
His mom Elaine never spoke about him and now that he is all alone, he is ready to discover his roots. A freak accident renders him deaf. However, after finding some clues about his dad, Ben runs away from his aunt and travels all by himself to New York for an adventure.
At the same time the screen is divided in two by also narrating another similar story told in black and white. Rose, a deaf young girl in the 1920’s, who escapes her family house to go to New York City and meet her mother. These two stories have many parallels and they intertwine together to create a magical and poetic atmosphere on screen, culminating in a moving finale that leaves the audience with a smile on their face.
As a director, Todd Haynes has a strong inclination to celebrate the old Hollywood in his work. His style is quite elegant, and he is the only one that can find a way to mix together 1070’s vibes with 1920’s black and white silent movies. The symmetries and parallelism between the two main characters and their journeys are staggering and the jump from one story to the other is quite spectacular and fluid, as Haynes uses specific references in the scenography that allow a smooth transition between the two time frames.
Art is fundamental in the story and is skilfully used to unify two apparently opposite worlds; Rose's talent as an artist recreating NYC's skyline in scale allows the cinematographer to play with colour and saturation to switch from one decade to the other without confusing the audience or disturbing the flow of the movie.
The main stage to both the 1020’s and the 1970’s is the natural history museum and its exhibitions. Both children are drawn to art and collecting things, and it becomes their form of escape from their problems. A way to express themselves without having to talk.
In a film that employs two different decades, the soundtrack plays an important part to help the audience make the transition from Rose’s story to Ben’s. Silence is ever present in both, but while Rose’s adventure is told like a classic black and white silent movie that uses music to convey the characters’ emotions, with Ben music there to reaffirm where the movie is set and the fact that Ben lost his hearing all of a sudden and is not used to not being able to communicate freely.
The cast ensemble does a fantastic job in bringing to life each character. Both Millicent Simmonds and Oakes Fegley outdid themselves. They tap into all their emotions and convey their characters’ frustration and anger effortlessly. For both of them the loss of someone dear is the force behind their actions and only at the end they find a way to accept what happened to them.
Julianne Moore is magnificent and it’s her character that brings the catharsis at the end of the film. She is elegant and even without uttering a single word, her movements and expressions are able to convey all her character’s feelings.
Although Wonderstruck is a movie that delights and entertains the audience in a delicate and ingenious way, the film drags a bit too long and it really finds its meaning and value only half an hour close to the end. Intertwining two different decades and movie-making styles together is a clever idea to bring to the screen a story that has already been told, so in a way we can forgive and forget that the film can feel a little bit too long.
In a year in which movies are raising their voices to denounce and shine a light on problematic topics, Wonderstruck is a breath of fresh air that reminds us how important it is for everyone to belong and to never give up if you want something.