Running Away (Film Review: “Wonderstruck”)

A beautiful and mysterious journey linking two lost children between disparate worlds.

SnapShot Plot

Wonderstruck is a wondrously elusive and imaginative 2-films-in-1 story about the mysterious bond between two children from different time periods as they embark on NYC adventures that ultimately resolve in a beautiful thru-chord between their separate worlds.

In 1977, Ben (played by Oakes Fegley) is a lonely 12-yr old boy whose single mother (played by Michelle Williams) has kept the truth of her son’s father a secret, promising to enlighten him when the time is right. Tragically, that time never comes and Ben finds himself virtually alone in the world, but when he finds an old book in his mother’s belongings with an inscription from a man he can only presume to be his father, Ben decides to run away to New York City in search of the man himself. Before he leaves, a freak accident renders him profoundly deaf, but he takes off anyway and somehow makes his way from Minnesota to The Big Apple.

The frame shifts to black & white, in 1927 Hoboken NJ, where Rose, a privileged young girl (in a breakout performance by deaf newcomer Millicent Simmonds) longs for the attention of her famous mother, a queen of the (soon to be eclipsed) silent movie era. A complete loner, Rose too runs away to the big city in the hopes of finding her mother and gaining refuge from the harsh and unloving father she left at home. Julianne Moore (in a double role) is the reluctant and brittle woman who couldn’t be further away from the devoted mothers she’s played on the silver screen, all to the sad resignation of Rose. Somehow, before her mother has the chance to return the child to her father, Rose escapes, setting in motion a cat & mouse adventure as she finds herself at the Museum of Natural History. Fifty years later, another deaf child, Ben arrives at the same place, driven by forces he can’t imagine are connected to those of a strange girl he’s never even heard of.

Parting Shot

Director Todd Haynes, best known for films like Far From Home and Carol, is a master of tone and mood, with an incredible attention to production detail, here evident in his capture of 1920s as well as 1970s Manhattan. Together with Brian Selznick, who adapted the screenplay from his own novel, the result is a sensual glimpse into the interior lives of children. Haynes himself is a director renowned for his ability to evoke a character’s deep reservoir of interior thought, even when societal or cultural barriers – or in this case the impenetrable wall of deafness – prove an impediment to communication.

From the confused expressions on the faces of Oakes Fegley (Pete’s Dragon; The Goldfinch; This Is Where I Leave You) and Millicent Simmonds to Carter Burwell’s lush score sprinkled with David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, we feel very much on the inside of these childrens’ experiences. And whether or not it was inherent in the book, or even if the mysterious connection between Ben and Rose revealed itself to some earlier than others, still the movie felt very much like a love poem to New York City, in all her splendor and seedy surrender. It’s not for the faint of heart, the film seems to be saying, and in the course of a single day, entire destinies can be shaped. If you just have the courage to leave home.

Wonderstruck is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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