LFF 2017: Wonderstruck – Review

Director: Todd Haynes
Starring: Julianne Moore, Millicent Simmonds, Oakes Fegley, Michelle Williams, Jaden Michael

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. (Source: IMDb)

After the success of his last film, Carol, it is no surprise that all eyes are on Wonderstruck, the latest film from director Todd Haynes. Having played earlier in the year at Cannes, it is undoubtedly one of the big draws of this year’s London Film Festival line-up.

An unabashed fan of shooting on film, Haynes and Director of Photography Ed Lachman, use a stunning combination of Kodak 35mm black & white film, and colour film stocks to give the distinct parallel timelines of Wonderstruck a gorgeous authenticity and feel. The black and white film used for the 1920s timeline is gorgeously stark and it is evident that Haynes had a desire to honour the films of yesteryear, particularly silent movies as these scenes are completely dialogue-less.

As was the case with silent movies, the score has to do a lot of the heavy lifting, and it is in these scenes in particular that the beautiful score from Carter Burwell (who like Lachman, collaborated with Haynes on Carol), really shines. It evokes feeling and emotion without ever feeling manipulative and moves effortlessly from playful to stirring as the scene demands.

Returning to Lachman’s cinematography, the golden yellow hues of the 1970s timeline provide a beautiful contrast and the film stocks used feel authentic for the era. Haynes is undoubtedly a director who loves his craft, loves making films and loves bringing that genuine authenticity to the stories he brings to life.

The timelines follow Ben (Oakes Fegley) and Rose (the astounding Millicent Simmonds), who despite being worlds and eras apart, share a desire for more, a sense of longing and the adventurous spirit which sees them follow their desires on a journey of discovery. By happenstance (or so we are initially led to believe), both Ben and Rose are deaf; Rose seemingly from birth although this isn’t explained, and Ben following a freak accident. The two stories intertwine and inch closer and closer as the film progresses, with mesmerising symmetry.

Elevated by two truly excellent child performances from Fegley and Simmonds, Wonderstruck is gorgeous in its simplicity and as the title would suggest, easily instills that childlike sense of wonder and discovery. The story does meander a little in the middle, just at the point that the conclusion is seemingly inevitable, and whilst spending time with this beautiful film is no bad thing, the pacing is a little slow.

On the whole however, Haynes has crafted something truly wonderful and unique in Wonderstruck. It’s charming narrative, fantastical sense of destiny, and excellent performances bring it to life, and as Haynes has intended, it shows that the art of visual storytelling is not lost. A wonder indeed!

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