Anyone who has dug up an old book and wondered who it was who wrote his name in it 50 years ago might fall in love with Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck, the film version of Brian Selznick’s novel.
Nineteen seventy-seven. Young Ben (Oakes Fegley) is orphaned, and then deprived of his hearing by a freak accident. Finding a stash of money left behind by his mother, he decides to search for his father, because of a mysterious message left on a bookmark. His story is contrasted with the tale of Rose (Millicent Simmonds), an affluent shut-in of 1927.
There are all sorts of reasons why the wondrous Wonderstruck should have failed, and the principal challenge was matching a pair of wildly different eras. Haynes (Carol, Far from Heaven) deftly switches back and forth from a silent era of sharp black-and-white angles to mellow color; when a taxi drives through the spray of an uncapped fire hydrant, we think of Travis Bickle’s journeys in Taxi Driver. These ’70s streetscapes are as sterling as the recreations in the HBO series The Deuce, but with a far wider focus. It’s grimy, but nostalgic.
Simmonds, who is deaf and plays a deaf character, has tremendous charm as she pursues a silent film star (Julianne Moore); it’s touching to see brave, dark-eyed Rose take in the last performance of a silent film at a theater where the Vitaphone sound system equipment is about to be installed—were there deaf movie fans betrayed by the arrival of sound film?
Cory Michael Smith and James Urbaniak provide support as Rose’s allies. They really have faces, as Sunset Boulevard character Norma Desmond put it. Moore returns to connect the sundered history in pantomime; our finest living screen actress repairs the broken chains of time with the help of lovely toylike miniatures, in a sequence free of the tweenness of Wes Anderson. This is a film to cherish, and it’s one of the best movies about New York I’ve seen.
‘Wonderstruck’ is playing at Summerfield Cinemas, 551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. 707.525.8909.