Cannes Review: Todd Haynes' sentimental and mundane 'Wonderstruck' disappoints

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Todd Haynes is a filmmaker that I have grown to love over the years. His list of films is staggeringly impressive ("Safe," "Far From Heaven," "Carol") but watching his latest, "Wonderstruck," is an endurance test. In fact, while watching the film the question I kept asking myself was "Is this really a movie directed by Todd Haynes?" None of the director's visual panache or unsentimental agility are on display here. This is a film that tries to be like Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," except to be its complete opposite in tone and execution.

"Wonderstruck" is Haynes' most conventional picture and it isn't conventional in the oh it's still entertaining kind of way, nono, this is tediousness at its prime. A simplified and dumbed-down adaptation of Brian Selnick's (Also wrote "Hugo") critically acclaimed children's book that tries to pander to the masses, refuses to take risks and, instead, feels shallow and ill conceived.

The film is split into two interlocking stories, one has to do with a boy, Oakes Fegley as Ben, that is struck by lightning and ends up deaf. He runs away on a solo journey to 1970s New York City to find his long-estranged father. The second story is shot in silent black and white and deals with that same boy's mother at a younger age, Millicent Simmonds as Rose, she's also deaf and headed to New York City as well to find her long estranged mother. Eventually their fates meet, but I didn't need to tell you for you to realize all that.























One particularly interesting technical note is that Haynes shot the black and white footage in widescreen (2.35) b&w monochrome. Why not 1.33:1 aspect ratio? That decision ends up making the scenes look far less cinematic and rather modern-looking, which isn't what Haynes was looking for to achieve here.

Ben and Rose's journey is supposed to be enthralling and transporting, but what it instead feels like is never-ending. There are episodic parts that feel like retreads from other movies. Of course, Ben was going to find a friend on his journey, at some point he even helps him spell "friend" in sign language GOSH! Insufferably mundane, the film is aided by cinematography extraordinaire Edward Lachmann's lenses, but one can only imagine how beautiful the film could have been if Haynes had decided to shoot the black and white in the right format and not in pristine HD. 

Two of our best actresses, Jullianne Moore and Michelle Williams, playing mothers in two different eras, are severely underused into what amounts to 10-15 minutes of screen time for each actress. That's just how this movie seems to roll, with one frustrating decision piled on after another. Moore's return with Haynes, a dynamic actress/director team that should have never seperated for the last 15 years, almost feels like a teasing cameo. This is not the promised return we were hoping for, in fact, it feels more like a friend helping another friend on a day off from work than an actual artistic purpose.

The fact that Haynes followed up his masterful "Carol" with this piece of junk is a major red flag as to whether or not th director might have lost a bit of his artful touch.

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