Wednesday, October 11, 2017

NYFF Spotlight: Wonderstruck

I’m thrilled to be covering a number of selections from the 55th Annual New York Film Festival, which takes place September 28th-October 15th.

Directed by Todd Haynes
NYFF Centerpiece

Todd Haynes is a direct known for vivid, perceptive films that offer social commentary and usually look pretty great in the process. His three most well-known and recent films are “Carol,” “I’m Not There,” and “Far From Heaven,” all of which feature unconventional adult relationships and are set in the past. For his latest project, Haynes ditches the adult themes to make a film about and, in large part, for children. “Wonderstruck” tells an inventive, invigorating story of two children in different periods, both coping with a lack of hearing and searching for answers.

In 1977, Ben (Oakes Fegley) has just lost his mother (Michelle Williams) in a car accident, and after he loses his hearing when the phone he is holding is struck by lightning, he sets out on a bus from Minnesota to New York City with the hopes of finding the father that his mother repeatedly said she’d one day tell him about. In 1927, Rose (Millicent Simmonds), who is deaf, is less than eager to learn how to communicate in a conventional way and flees the Hoboken home she shares with her father (James Urbaniak) to find her actress mother (Julianne Moore) and explore New York City.

At a press conference for the film, Haynes discusses making this film for “an audience I never really address” and how it made him think of how much movies meant to him as a young person. He remembers that there were movies beyond his reach, something he believes is important to show kids to expose them to new and potentially incomprehensible ideas. This film deals a lot with museums and the way in which they seem infinitely larger to those of a young age, including Ben’s new friend Jamie (Jaden Michael), who has a secret hideout deep within the American Museum of Natural History that he shows Ben. Haynes acknowledges that it is a tribute to New York, which makes its selection as the centerpiece for the New York Film Festival all the more meaningful, and uses the reflection of space and time in the museums of New York to its compelling advantage.

The child actors in this film are nothing short of fantastic, and it’s very entertaining to hear them talk about how they acclimated to the roles. Michael notes his previous work on a TV show set in the 1970s, “The Get Down,” but says that playing a gangster is very different, and listening to music of the times helped him get into character. Simmonds, who is actually deaf, signed that she had to pretend not to know sign language, which provided its own challenges and opportunities. Joined by Moore and Tom Noonan, this ensemble proves to be a winning combination. While it seems to lack a clear direction during its first act, it finishes extremely strongly, and should leave viewers satisfied. Haynes’ new film may be free of passionate same-sex relationships, but this film does have a strong dramatic core emphasizing youth, family, and friendships.


No comments: