Telluride Review: ‘Wonderstruck’ Falters from Director Todd Haynes

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Wonderstruck

2017 TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL: In 2011, John Logan adapted Brian Selznick‘s wonderfully magical book “Hugo” for director Martin Scorsese. The end result was not only my favorite film of the year but one of my favorites for the current decade. This year, Selznick handled the adaptation of his novel “Wonderstruck” for director Todd Haynes.

“Wonderstruck” simultaneously follows the separate tales of two hearing-impaired 12-year-olds. One-half of the story is told as a black and white silent film, taking place in 1927, and following Rose (played by Millicent Simmonds), a lover of the stars of the silver screen. Rose runs off to New York in search of the mother that has abandoned her. Her story interweaves with Ben’s (Oakes Fegley), circa 1977. He is also on the lamb, again headed to New York to discover the father he has never met. Separated by five decades, their stories begin to unfold and we discover the pair may have more in common than just their disabilities, the longing for a missing parental figure, and a love for the chance to escape that the Museum of Natural History provides.

Haynes collaborates with cinematographer Ed Lachman for the fifth time. Lachman’s previous work – along with his accomplished work here – earned him one of the two tributes at this year’s festival, a well-deserved honor, and his work in the film – along with the first-time performance from Simmonds, the succulent costume designs by three-time Oscar winner Sandy Powell, and elaborate set designs by Mark Friedberg – helped bolster what was otherwise a bit of a disappointing film.

When “Wonderstruck” works, it works very well.  The way we are welcomed into the imaginations of the two young children is particularly strong. However, when it doesn’t work, the film is a tough watch.

The editing is dizzying and the pace is excruciating with the story lines simply taking too long to come together. When they do, the film really takes off, but it’s the getting there that is the problem. There were audible yawns from the audience during some of the silent film sequences. One, in particular, had a gentleman leave about an hour into the movie, never to return.

“Wonderstruck” has heart, however, and for those who are a bit more patient with it, the payoff is can be large. It actually could have worked better as an hour-long short film, arriving at its climax in less time.

“Wonderstruck” is distributed by Amazon Studios and will arrive in theaters on October 20.

GRADE: (★★½)

CHECK THE LATEST OSCAR PREDICTIONS AND SEE WHERE “WONDERSTRUCK” RANKS:

MOTION PICTURE | DIRECTOR |
LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |