Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Todd Haynes' WONDERSTRUCK may leave you (and your kids) in that special state. I hope so.

Finally: A children's movie that really is for children. And for their parents. And maybe especially for their grandparents. (WONDERSTRUCK is set back in time in both the 1920s and the 1970s.) Best of all, this is not one of those Marvel or DC "stupid-hero" films, of which we've seen far too many of late. At the press screening I attended a month back, here in Fort Lauderdale, as the end credits rolled, there was a burst of spontaneous applause the likes of which I've not heard in all my two years down here in Florida. There were only maybe a dozen of us critics at the screening, but that applause sounded like it was coming from a hundred or more.

As much as TrustMovies has enjoyed and appreciated the films of Todd Haynes (shown at left: Carol, I'm Not There, Far From Heaven), he would not have guessed this guy capable of directing a movie for children that worked this well. (But, then, he was equally surprised by the success of David Lowery in directing the Pete's Dragon remake.)

Mr. Haynes' use of everything from the terrifically talented young actors involved to some fine, collage-like animation, an amazing diorama and New York City's American Museum of Natural History, in combination with the increasingly lost art of genuinely imaginative storytelling (the screenplay is by Brian Selznick, from his book of the same title) joins to make Wonderstruck a wonderment indeed.

Haynes and Selznick have divided their film into two stories that eventually connect. One is that of the young girl, Rose, played with wondrous openness and grit by newcomer Millicent Simmons (above), who leaves her comfortable New Jersey home to journey to New York City back in the 1920s to find and meet her idol and famous actress (brought to life by Julianne Moore). The other story, set in the 1970s, follows Ben (Oakes Fegley, shown below, the fine young actor who also played Pete in that Dragon movie), who comes to New York City to find the father he has never known, after his mother (Michelle Williams) has died in an accident.

How these stories weave together so beautifully and delightfully -- using New York's American Museum of Natural History in perhaps the most thrilling and meaningful manner I've yet seen on film (one that puts those Night at the Museum movies rather in the shade) -- is as wondrous as all else in the film, and the scenes involving the children at play (and learning) are so filled with energy, believability and sheer joy that they take their place among the great "kid" scenes movies have given us.

Ms Moore (above) plays yet another dual role (as she does in the better-than-you've-heard and under-appreciated Suburbicon), and she is alternately hard and soft, caring and not-so, and of course aces at both.

How Haynes' and Selznick's movie works itself out is less surprising than it is a kind of consistently visual (while mostly non-verbal) amazement. The movie deals in large part with deafness, and the way it handles this -- via conception, execution and especially performances -- is, I think, exceptional, original and quite moving without ever needing to jerk those tears.

How Mr. Haynes achieves this, with the help of Mr. Selzlnick, of course, is what makes him such a singular and thrilling filmmaker. Do stay through the end credits, which are joyful, explosive, colorful and finally meaningful, too. A word must be said, too, for the other and already quite seasoned young actor in the film, Jaden Michael (above, right, and below, left), who plays Jamie, the kid who encounters Ben on the city's street and befriends him. Young Master Michael is certainly the equal of his two fine co-stars. Mr. Haynes has managed to encourage (or maybe simply allow) three indelible child performances to burgeon here, and great thanks are in order. This is magical movie-making.

One of the year's best films, Wonderstruck -- from Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions and running a just-right 115 minutes -- after opening last week on the coasts, will hit South Florida this Friday, November 3. In Miami, it plays the AMC's Aventura Mall and Sunset Place, the Cinepolis Grove 15, and Regal's South Beach 18; in Fort Lauderdale at the Gateway 4; in Boca Raton at the Regal Shadowood 16, in Boynton Beach at the Cinemark 14, and at The Movies of Delray. On the following Friday, November 10, it will opens throughout the country. Click here to find the theater(s) nearest you.

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