If they gave out awards for Artiest Kids’ Movie, Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck would be up there.
Following his gorgeous 1950s romance Carol which debuted here to rapturous reviews in 2015, Haynes delves into the period costume cupboard once more, aided splendidly by costume supremo Sandy Powell (with whom Haynes shared a unique “artistic interpretation” award at Cannes back in 1998 for glam-rock drama The Velvet Goldmine), balancing two story lines, 50 years apart.
In the 1927 section, a young deaf girl (played by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds) leaves Hoboken for an adventure in the city, trying to find her mother, a great silent movie actress called Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore) now appearing on Broadway. The streets teem with women in cloche hats and men in Bowery Boy work outfits.
In the 1977 part, a boy called Ben is struck deaf by lightning and runs away from home in Minnesota to find his Dad – his only clue being a bookmark in a Compendium of Wonders, with the address of a bookshop in New York City. Now the streets teem with funky styles and black kids playing in fire hydrants while the street sounds of Esther Philips pick up the pace.
Haynes juggles the stories weaving us in and out of them with poise and elegance, brilliantly capturing the confusion of the deaf experience, heightening the visuals and style yet also, cleverly, enhancing the soundscapes.
You wait, of course, for the two strands to converge and when they do, taking in escapades and jinks (Ben meets another kid called Jamie), the Museum of Natural History is involved, as well as dioramas, and an amazing scale model panorama on New York in the Queen’s Museum. Written by Brian Selznick and based on his own book (he wrote what become Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, too, and you can feel the similarities in the latter half), Wonderstruck has a charm and innocence yet also an edge of emotion that keeps it from tipping into quirky twee territory.
This may not be Haynes’ finest work, but it does have heart and style and, ultimately, it’s a film about story telling, both its smoke-screen of lies and its power to inspire. And as a yarn itself, it delights most of the way.