The story of a young boy in the Midwest is told simultaneously with a tale about a young girl in New York from fifty years ago as they both seek the same mysterious connection.
Some parts of the movie “Wonderstruck” are so beautiful they threaten to move you to tears. Other parts of this book adapted to film fail to add up to the wonder and magic created in the beginning. The actors were superb. Julianne Moore played both Lillian and Rose Mayhew. Young Rose was played by Millicent Simmonds and what a role did she have! The other main character, Oakes Fegley (“Pete’s Dragon”) is a star to watch for. “Wonderstruck” will not make him a big name but it will be a stepping stone to greater films to further his budding career.
This haunting tale is two stories in one. First, the story of Rose, a young deaf girl in 1927. Raised by a tyrant of a father, who runs to New York to find her famous actress mother who is also dissatisfied with her daughter’s handicap and presence. Rose finds her way to the Museum of Natural Science where her lack of hearing causes her trouble with the museum security. Rose’s much older brother Walter happens to work at the museum and finds his sister and takes her in and keeps her instead of sending her home to their parents.
Ben’s story takes place in 1977, in Minnesota, fifty years after Rose’s story began. Michelle Williams played Ben’s mom Elaine before the character’s life is cut short by a tragic accident. Ben is stuck living next door with his aunt and cousins. Unable to cope with his mother’s death, Ben sneaks next door to his mother’s room where he is struck by lighting, through the phone, and left without his hearing after finding a clue about where his father lives.
After sneaking out of the hospital, Ben follows the trail to his father in New York City. He finds a friend whose father works at the Natural Museum of Science and spends a day and night exploring the exhibits with his new pal Jamie (Jaden Michael) who does not mind Ben not being able to hear. Their newfound friendship flourishes until Ben finds out NY local Jamie has kept information concerning Ben’s father a secret so Ben won’t leave. With the new information, Ben leaves and finds the bookstore he believes his father owns. When he arrives though, he finds a man old enough to be his grandfather and a woman who somehow knows him. All the puzzle fits together but fail to leave quite the ending Ben had hoped he would gain.
I had high hopes for the movie. The beautiful backdrops and focus on museum artifacts, coupled with two tales weaved together, should have created a magical ending but did not. The ending (which I will not give away) was the only part lacking in this otherwise wonderful film. The hype was too fantastical at the beginning to lead to such a small ending that I figured out early on. The main problem was how overstuffed and embellished some parts were while others fell short, and the pacing could have been improved as well.
The children made the movie special, with their dedication to their roles and how well they displayed the complicated life one would have without hearing. The undermentioned character Walter, the savior of the show, should have had a much bigger role considering the impact he had on everyone, yet Rose received more attention. I loved the contrast between the black and white for the 1920s and the not quite vivid color of the 1970s. The museum aspect was phenomenal. I know I am not the only person who as a kid wished to spend a night in a museum exploring (so long as the dinosaur bones and other exhibits did not come to life).
Overall, the beauty of this movie and the deep look into familial and friend connections won out over the inconsistencies. The carefree friendships the children formed so fast was a work of magic between Ben and Jamie. Easily my favorite part of the film. I remember having friends for a short while, days or a week and yet I still remember and care for them. Few films have been able to effectively display this level of childhood friendship. “Wonderstruck” will pull on your heartstrings but I wonder if the book version was more capable. I expect to be more impressed with the paper version than the screen version.
In select theaters Friday, October 27th