By Leslie C. Halpern
Wonderstruck is built on a promise. If you sit through nearly two hours watching the magical teasing together of two plotlines slowly converging, the final payoff will be worth the wait. Unfortunately, Wonderstuck does not fully deliver on its promise.
Two Stories from Different Time Periods
The two stories concern a girl and boy from different time periods. A sweet deaf girl named Rose (Millicent Simmonds, who is actually deaf) lives alone with her disapproving father in New Jersey in 1927. She’s obsessed with a silent movie actress (Julianne Moore) and runs off to New York City to see her. Rose’s older brother also lives there and works at the nearby American Museum of Natural History where Rose enjoying wandering through the rooms.
Although she is advised to go back home to her father, she decides to stay in New York. Rose’s silent world makes a sharp contrast to the noisy action of Manhattan’s city streets. Oblivious to the potential dangers around her, she seeks family and a sense of belonging, and is willing to go wherever it takes to find it.
Seeking Family in New York City
In the parallel story about the boy, Ben (Oakes Fegley, an expressive young actor known for his role of Pete in the 2016 action adventure, Pete’s Dragon) lives in Minnesota in 1977. His mother recently died in a car accident, and he’s staying with his aunt and disagreeable cousin. He finds a romantic message to his mother inside an old book about cabinets of wonder – the earliest form of museum. The note is written on a bookmark indicating a used bookstore in New York.
As Ben calls the phone number listed for the store, a freak lightning strike goes through the telephone receiver and causes him to go deaf in both ears. This latest setback doesn’t deter 11-year-old Ben from jumping on a bus and traveling to New York City to find clues about the love note, presumably written by the mysteriously missing father he’s never known. Like Rose, he’s deaf, alone, and seeking family and a sense of belonging. He finds a new friend, Jamie (Jaden Michael), who helps him adjust to his deafness, and find the answer to the question about his father’s whereabouts.
A Disappointing Ending
The grand sweeping cinematography (Edward Lachmna), enchanting music (Carter Burwell), lush production design of two different eras (Mark Friedberg) and suspenseful direction (Todd Haynes, who also directed Julianne Moore in Far from Heaven) imply that these two stories will combine in an “aha” moment that will send chills down your spine. Intended as a family film, young children may experience this sense of wonder while piecing it all together. However, adults are far less likely to be wonderstruck by this ultimately disappointing film.
- The lives of a young boy in the present and a young girl from the past connect in a mysterious way.
- Stars: Oakes Fegley, Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Millicent Simmonds, Jaden Michael Smith, James Urbaniak
- Director: Todd Haynes
- Writer: Brian Selznick (based on his book, Wonderstruck)
- Genre: Drama Mystery
- Run Time: 116 minutes
- MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic elements and smoking)