Susan Granger’s review of “Wonderstruck” (Amazon Studios/Roadside Attractions)
Beginning with a quote from Oscar Wilde: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” – this is the visually captivating story of two curious 12 year-olds – a half-century apart – who run away to New York City to find answers to elusive questions about their past.
In 1927 in Hoboken, New Jersey, lonely Rose (Milllicent Simmonds) lives with her strict father (James Urbaniak). She’s deaf, and her great joy is going to the movies to see her silent-screen idol, Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore), who is now starring on Broadway and whom she thinks is her mother. Her story is evocatively told in stylized black-and-white with no spoken dialogue.
In 1977 in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota (in vibrant color), Ben (Oakes Fegley) is mourning the death of his single mother, a librarian named Elaine (Michelle Williams), when he finds an old bookmark from Kincaid Books in Manhattan with the note, “Elaine, I’ll wait for you. Love, Danny.” Just then, he’s struck by lightning, which leaves him deaf but, nevertheless, determined to find the man who may be his father.
As the puzzling plot unfolds, their parallel lives are bound to intersect. But how?
Collaborating with novelist/illustrator/screenwriter Brian Selznick, cinematographer Ed Lachman, production designer Mark Friedberg, costumer Sandy Powell and composer Carter Burwell, director Todd Haynes (“Carol”) cleverly cuts between Rose and Ben, each on a mission they are unable to articulate.
Somehow, they find their way to the wildlife dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History, where Ben meets mischievous Jamie (Jaden Michael), and Rose finds her older brother Walter (Cary Michael Smith).
The connective threads emanate from the historical tradition called Cabinets of Wonder, where ingenious individuals would display their exotic collections.
Adding to the remarkable authenticity of this childhood fantasy, newcomer Millicent Simmonds is deaf in real life, working with other hearing-impaired actors who communicate through their facial expressions, gestures and physicality.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10 “Wonderstruck” is an enthralling 8, weaving a cosmic web of whimsical enchantment.