Young Ben is in want of a father he’s never known, and Rose (young Millicent Simmonds), a deaf child who lives a hundred years earlier than him, is fascinated by a mysterious New York actress (played by Julianne Moore). After Ben discovers something in his mother’s (Michelle Williams) things he takes off for New York City to try and find his father. Rose comes into a hint, found in a newspaper clipping, and takes a boat ride to Manhattan in search of the actress.
Based on a novel by Brian Selznick (the children’s book illustrator known for “The invention of Hugo Cabret,” a book that was adapted to the big screen by Martin Scorsese) “Wonderstruck” (an Amazon Studios production), which offers many a visual pleasure, is nevertheless oppressed by the glut of material that Haynes unleashes from the two narratives (his and hers). There’s too much stuff going on on the screen and it gets in the way of the film.
Haynes, who was last in Cannes in 2015 with “Carol,” clearly attempted something grand. “Wonderstruck,” part of which is a silent film, is filled with one tour-de-force after another in terms of visuals; reenactments of 1970s and 1920s New York City, pure joy both, are a feat. It’s one of those no-expenses-shall-be-spared kind of movie. And yet, the basic premise of filmmaking, and then film-watching, gets hurt from so much material (too much of it that, as it turns out, does nothing to advance the story). And then there’s the camp, tug-at-your-heartstrings melancoly Carter Burwell score (definitely one of his lesser works) that helps turn “Wonderstruck” into a soggy mess. But let’s not place the blame on Burwell’s shoulder only, Haynes abused his film with music. Too many notes! Shame, because I always love it when an American-made film shines brighter than the other ones.
In fairness it must be said that, “Wonderstruck,” given the reaction at this morning’s screening (hearty applause) and talk of an Oscar run in the wires, is probably destined for a strong commercial run.
Ali Naderzad is at the 70th Cannes Festival from May 17th to the 27th.