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American films

Wonderstruck film review: blend of nostalgia and fantasy from Todd Haynes falls short

Based on Brian Selznick’s novel about deaf children on a big-city search for their lost parents, Julianne Moore’s star power and lavish production fail to make this appealing to younger viewers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 March, 2018, 7:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 March, 2018, 7:00am

2/5 stars

Martin Scorsese once claimed that his motivation for directing Hugo, his 2011 foray into stereoscopic 3D, was to finally make a film that young children could watch. What emerged, however, was less an enchanting adaptation of Brian Selznick’s children’s book than a potted history of Georges Melies and the advent of cinema, wrapped in a technically brilliant but soulless vessel.

Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck, also based on a Selznick novel, suffers from exactly the same problems, with its two-lane narrative diving simultaneously into the twilight years of silent cinema and the dangers of disco-era New York.

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Both strands follow deaf, prepubescent protagonists braving the big bad city for the first time as they search for their absent parents. Rose (Millicent Simmonds) and Ben’s (Oakes Fegley) odysseys lead them both to the American Museum of Natural History and a run-in with Haynes regular Julianne Moore (in a double role).

Considering that Ben and Rose are deaf – one due to a freak accident, the other presumably from birth and locked into a silent movie of their own – it’s curious to note Haynes’ emphasis on the soundtrack. Disability forces the children to be more attentive to their surroundings, and Haynes goes all-in on lavish production design and fastidious attention to detail that would make Wes Anderson swoon.

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The children sneak behind the curtains of theatres, cinemas and the museum, uncovering forgotten treasures hoarded by generations of overzealous curators. Selznick, who also penned the screenplay, draws parallels between these curators and the roles of parents, suggesting we should all be more respectful of how we remember the past.

Sadly, the filmmaker responsible for perfect time capsules including Velvet Goldmine and Carol is glimpsed only in the colour schemes and classic funk beats here. For a film piloted almost exclusively by children, Wonderstruck feels woefully impenetrable to younger viewers. Haynes’ fastidious cinematic diorama of New York emerges as a tedious and self-indulgent folly.

Wonderstruck opens on March 22

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