Wonderstruck lives up to its name… for its first hour

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Opens Friday 24

Roxy Theatre
3 out of 5

Director Todd Haynes chose a story loaded with whimsy and narrative trickery to follow the raw sentimentality of his 2015 film Carol. But while Wonderstruck is the closest the filmmaker has been to making a family movie, it doesn’t reach the heights of his best work (Far from Heaven, Velvet Goldmine.

Wonderstruck unfolds in two timelines. The main one takes place in 1977 and revolves around Ben (Oakes Fegley, Pete’s Dragon), a surly kid who just lost his mother (Michelle Williams). Ben believes if he finds his absentee dad everything will be okay.

Ben’s story intermingles with one set in 1927. Rose (newcomer Millicent Simmonds), a deaf 12-year-old obsessed with a movie star, escapes from home to pursue her idol.

Ben and Rose’s stories connect in an unexpected fashion (beyond the fact they’re both chasing mythical people to magically solve all their problems.)

A lot of the film is silent and in black and white which lets Haynes’ collaborators Julianne Moore, cinematographer Ed Lachman and composer Carter Burwell strut their stuff. But as clever and well-intentioned as Wonderstruck is, its artificiality nullifies its emotional punch. Haynes is a naturally humanistic filmmaker but for most of this feature he tries too hard. Using sad children to create sympathy is manipulative, the visuals are precious (not Hugo-esque but close) and the story is too self-aware.

I’m all for David Bowie music in movies but using “Space Oddity” to signify alienation is just too on the nose.

Despite its shortcomings, Wonderstruck delivers the clichéd “good time at the movies”.

It just doesn’t clear the high bar it set itself.