Back in 2015, director Todd Haynes gave us one of the best films of the decade in Carol; returning to the helm this year to follow it up, we have Wonderstruck.


Brian Selznick adapts his own book here, as he did with The Inventions of Hugo Cabret, for Martin Scorsese. However, unlike that film – a quick paced affair – Wonderstruck is the more patient of Selznick’s work. The narrative cuts back-and-forth between 1927 and 1977; in both, a deaf child runs away from home for one reason or another – in the former timeline, the mute and deaf Rose (Millicent Simmons)’s reasons are due to a harsh, unloving father; the latter thread sees Ben (Oakes Fegley) run after his mother (Michelle Williams) passes. But, as one may suspect, there is a connection between these two storylines – one that, despite an angle of predictability about half-way through, grows as the film progresses.

Carol is one of my personal favourite films to have released this decade; Haynes’ storytelling in that is elegant and gorgeous. For that reason alone, I was curious to see what his latest would offer. And whilst nowhere near its predecessor, it is a good – albeit if clunky – film that offers some engaging and beautiful storytelling, further cementing Haynes’ immense talent as one of the most human filmmakers in this industry today. Dialogue is used very sparingly throughout, with Wonderstruck relying on a lot of visual storytelling – especially in the black-and-white 1927 arc, given Rose is both deaf and mute – and, to Haynes’ testament, the story and heart of the film come across very fluidly. It feels like a pastiche of silent, old-school styled cinema, through its very stripped down approach, as well as mesmerising production and sound design complimenting it all. It’s a visually gorgeous film; the sun-drenched 1977 streets and the grainy black-and-white of the 1927 era are a great pairing and make for some beautiful visual contrasts and sequences.
Throughout the story, Haynes drip feeds us information about the various arcs and their connection. It’s slow in its nature, purposefully paced – again, it feels very stripped down - but remains fascinating. Simmons’ black-and-white 1920’s arc is certainly the stronger of the two; the young actress gives such a charming, commanding performance. It’s such emotionally expressive work too, and the revelatory Simmons pulls it off with such ease and conviction. The 1977 storyline is where the film falters; there is enough heart and excitement to keep it alive and Fegley is terrific in the role but the arc just drags a lot more than its 1927 counterpart which we just always want to go back to - the story and beauty of the 20s definitely comes across, evident in its more transfixing and heartbreaking fluidity and storytelling. The film is also very protective of its mysteries and elaborations, keeping the audience out of the loop for as long as possible but not in a way that compliments the ambiguity but rather one that means the third act reveals feel so rushed and choppy in their execution; we understand what’s going on, but it doesn’t quite come with the kick it could have had if the film laid its breadcrumbs more cohesively and really let the whole underlying mystery simmer and build more.

But Haynes brings enough heart to the table to keep Wonderstruck quite the endeavour; this is a slow-burning film, but it remains captivating throughout because of superb visual storytelling, great performances and sweeping production and sound design. It’s wholly original and full of an undeniable, ineffable poignancy and charm - albeit if a little cluttered in its overall execution at times. Whilst not quite hitting the emotional weight of Carol, Todd Haynes has crafted a charming, genuinely beautiful story of life and family. It’s a film full of exuberant artistic flair so it's easy to see that it won't be everyone’s cup of tea. But it certainly left me quite wonderstruck.  


A clunky, yet beautifully told, story, Wonderstruck will do just that: leave you wonderstruck.

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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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