“Wonderstruck” Underwhelms

Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes, 2017)*

How I wish I did not dislike this movie so much. Its intentions are good, and it features a strong performance from young newcomer Millicent Simmonds, a deaf actress cast in a deaf role (something we don’t see very often), but such things do not a good film make, on their own, alas. Based on Brian Selznick’s 2011 half-text/half-graphic novel of the same title, Wonderstruck follows two parallel stories, the one in 1927, the other in 1977, each with a child at its center. In the book, the earlier story is the one told in pictures, while the more modern tale is related in text, a device which allows Selznick to interrupt the one with the other in dramatic fashion.

Unfortunately, director Todd Haynes (Carol), usually a reliable filmmaker, especially in the arena of production design, does nothing more interesting in the older scenes than film them in black & white, with sets that evoke no period mood at all, though Simmonds is quite fine on her own. The rest of the cast is uneven, and even the great Julianne Moore (Still Alice) barely rises above the trite emotions of the script … until the last act, when the movie suddenly comes alive – inspired by New York’s famed city diorama, in Queens – rising to magical heights of creative design. Where, one asks, was this inspiration, before? It almost makes up for the insipid mess of the earlier scenes, but not quite. I have admired Haynes’ work until now, and hope to again in the future, but I cannot endorse this one.

*[this review was previously published as part of coverage of the recent Middleburg Film Festival that I wrote for Film Festival Today.]