Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck is a childhood fable brimming with lush visuals yet too wispy to bear them. Based on Brian Selznick’s 2011 novel, the movie , seldom jarring the heart as much as the eyes.
Two children 50 years apart sharing more than deafness provide Haynes with ample opportunities for precise period designs. Rose (Millicent Simmonds) lives in 1927 Hoboken, N.J., unable to hear since birth, curiosity beaming from her face in silvery monochrome. Ben (Oakes Fegley) lives in 1977 Minnesota, deafened by a freak accident. He runs away to disco-era New York, filmed with apropos grit.
Both children seek an absent parent: Rose’s mother (Julianne Moore) keeps her stashed with relatives while she’s a stage and screen star. Ben’s father is a mystery to solve, its clues leading him to the American Museum of Natural History. Naturally, these parallel stories will converge.
Always lovely to observe, Wonderstruck never entirely grasps the magic of the coincidences it requires. Themes are emotional yet Haynes’ obsession with visual detailing can drain their meaning. A late scene amid a scale model of New York City is a gorgeous distraction from a narrative meaning less by the minute. A little more wonder would go a long way. B-