Director Todd Haynes’s new film “Wonderstruck,” based on Brian Selznick’s book, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” offers an odd experience. There is overall charm in its exploration of quests by two youngsters, but it takes a while to begin to handle the two stories in different time frames.
One involves Ben, played engagingly by Oakes Fegley, and is set in 1977. Ben not only must cope with the death of his mother, but becomes deaf as a result of a freak accident with lightning. His story involves leaving his home in Minnesota and heading for New York to search for his father, a parent whom he has never met.
In addition to following the adventures and anxieties of Ben, plagued by his handicap, “Wonderstruck” follows the life of Rose in a time frame 50 years before Ben’s saga. Rose, who is 12, is effectively played by Millicent Simmonds. She also is deaf. She comes from Hoboken, N.J. and runs away from home to head for New York, not having as far to go as Ben in confronting the big city while searching for her mother.
There is some confusion as to the time differences, but Haynes attempts to help the viewer by showing Ben’s more recent saga in color, and Rose’s earlier one in black and white. It takes a while to get the hang of it all, but eventually the film comes down in part to how much you will become emotionally involved.
One help is the casting of Julianne Moore, always Interesting, this time in a dual role. Another high point is the treatment of New York in the different eras, and Haynes is fortunate to have had cinematographer Ed Lachman bringing his expertise to the task.
When Ben meets Jamie (Jaden Michael) and they become friends, their hanging out together offers a further opportunity for exploring Manhattan, including a magical foray into the Museum of Natural History.
There is a lot to cover in the twins stories, conceptually connected, and some of the escapades are more amusing or poignant than others. How you react to “Wonderstruck” may depend on how much you are taken by the performances, and how much you are seduced by the visuals and the sense of time and place. An Amazon Studios release. Reviewed October 20, 2017.