MEG SMITH ’21
Wonderstruck, 2017, directed by Todd Haynes) is a heartwarming, visually intricate film, which weaves together the stories of two young kids who set out on journeys to find acceptance and family in New York City, fifty years apart. It was nominated for the Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or. In a world where distressing news is ever more accessible, Wonderstruck provides a warm, escapist narrative that some might dismiss as unrealistically idealistic and romantic, but at its core is a thoroughly satisfying aesthetic and narrative experience built around the talents of strong writing, acting, and direction.
After his mother dies in a car accident in 1977, Ben (Oakes Fegley) grows tired of life in his sleepy Minnesota hometown. A sudden lightning storm strikes his house in a freak accident, and Ben loses his hearing from the shock. He decides to escape from the hospital and run away to New York in search of his father, guided only by a cryptic note.
Rose (Millicent Simmonds) is tired of being misunderstood by her father and the tutors he hires, so she runs away from her New Jersey home in 1927. She navigates the streets of New York without sound, hoping to reconnect with her mother and idol, the movie starlet Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore).
These two narratives are told simultaneously, switching between black-and-white film for the 1927 story and bold color-negative film for the 1977 story. We watch as Ben meets Jamie, a boy his age whose father works at the Museum of Natural History. We follow Rose’s hopes and expectations for Lillian Mayhew, and watch as she reconnects with her older brother. Parallels between the deaf children’s stories unfold slowly, delicately, as we recognize names and places across time, and the protagonists develop friendships whilst solving their personal mysteries.
Wonderstruck’s clever intermingling of visual techniques (and soundtrack elements) is well-supported by the direction and storytelling. According to IMDb, the director Todd Haynes was inspired to adapt another novel for the silver screen after the critical success of his movie Carol (2015), which was based on the novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith. Wonderstruck is based on the novel of the same name by Brian Selznick, who is better known for his novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was adapted for film in 2011. These critically-acclaimed storytellers have, artfully combined their talents to produce a movie with the colorful, magical character of a story written for young people, about young people.
The young actors in question are charming and captivating in their portrayal of Rose and Ben. Oakes Fegley, who plays Ben, is not a newcomer to cinema, having starred in Pete’s Dragon and appeared in CBS’ Person of Interest, among other projects. Millicent Simmonds, however, is a breakout star: this is her first major role on screen. Simmonds is deaf like her character Rose, and, according to IMDb, charmed the director and casting agents with an audition tape in American Sign Language. The choice to cast a deaf actress in a role of a deaf character is part of a larger contemporary trend in representation in film: casting people of minority identities in roles of minority identities, allowing them to portray their own experiences with authenticity and visibility. Simmonds will also play a major role as the daughter of John Krasinski and Emily Blunt’s characters in the upcoming supernatural horror film A Quiet Place, and it seems as if she will grow in renown over the next few years, especially if this next film gains critical acclaim.
Wonderstruck has already left the silver screen of Trinity’s Cinestudio, but you can see it on Amazon Prime Video, and be sure to look out for more award-nominated films at Cinestudio in the weeks leading up to the Oscars.