Movie Review: “Wonderstruck”
Lessons of belonging and family meld across the decades in Todd Haynes offering to the kids film genre.
Taking inspiration from silent films and employing an expert-level attention to detail, the new film, Wonderstruck, interweaves the adventures of two deaf teenagers in New York City, living 50 years apart. Though decades divide them, their pursuits to find a parent and a sense of belonging overlap.
Based on the best-selling children’s book by the same name, the film centers around Ben, living in 1970s Minnesota. After his mother’s untimely death and a freak accident which leaves him deaf, Ben travels to New York to find the dad he’s never met. On the way, he befriends Jamie, the son of a museum employee, who guides him through some of NYC’s museums, notably the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and the Queens Museum. While marveling at the wolves display from his hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, Ben notices an older woman that Jamie tells him is a frequent guest of the museum. Ben’s story features a colorful 1970s Harlem and gritty film style.
Rose’s storyline is set in 1920s Hoboken. Her story, largely told in silent film style and in black-and-white, finds her traveling to New York City to reconnect with her mother, a silent film star played by Julianne Moore. While Rose’s storyline relies on lip reading to get the full message of some scenes, the characters’ body language and facial expressions give the audience enough tools to understand the context. Julianne Moore plays both Rose’s silent film star mother and an older Rose, with a twist that parents will likely see coming.
Younger children may have a hard time sitting through the film’s slower pace and silent scenes, but the thematic elements and timelines will keep older kids interested. Oscar Wilde’s famous quote, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”, stands out as the film’s optimistic thru line, merging together the tragedy of death and disability, with new friends and family.
The film’s picturesque and colorful depiction of 1970s New York City combined with the old Hollywood feel of 1920s New York is director Todd Haynes winning work in the film. Haynes’ ties the potentially confusing storyline into a thoughtful and wholesome film. Ultimately, Wonderstruck offers a charming and visually appealing tale of two children finding a sense of belonging and the meaning of family.
What Kids Will Love: Although focused on two separate characters, the story line is easy to follow, and the beautifully crafted visuals will remind kids of their favorite storybooks.
What Parents Will Love: A throwback soundtrack featuring 1970s hits (think David Bowie and Fox on the Run) and a wholesome movie rooted in a story on discovering our roots, at any age.
Rated PG Some smoking is seen in the film, but is discouraged by the characters.