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Wondering and wandering

Julianne Moore and Oakes Fegley in ‘Wonderstruck’ (Amazon Studios)


Wondering and wandering

Two children from separate decades wander New York in Wonderstruck

Don’t try to learn too much about Wonderstruck (rated PG), a movie from director Todd Haynes, before seeing it onscreen. The theater is the best place to experience the unfolding wonder of this sweet story adapted from a novel by Brian Selznick, the same author who wrote The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

That novel became Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, and now another auteur has undertaken a similar story about children adventuring solo around New York. (Most children’s movies seem to find a way to get rid of the parents at the beginning. Honestly, what child hasn’t, at one point or another, dreamed of running away from home or sneaking around museums at night?)

These two children wander New York 50 years apart: one a girl named Rose (Millicent Simmonds) in 1927 and the other a boy named Ben (Oakes Fegley) in 1977. The film cuts back and forth between them as they explore Times Square and the American Museum of Natural History.

Haynes indulges in long, slow shots especially in the middle of the film, and children might have trouble staying engaged. But Haynes defended this approach: “You want to expose kids to complex, sophisticated, cool stuff that they make their own.”

A wallop-packed ending makes the journey worthwhile. The story is “a reflection about time, and how time is reflected in the institutions of New York,” said Haynes.

Reflections on time aside, the story of Rose could stand on its own. Rose is deaf, and Simmonds, the young actress who plays her, is also deaf. She is utterly captivating. Speaking through an ASL interpreter, Simmonds said she could inhabit the character because she had experienced the small challenges of, for example, communicating in a restaurant. “I understand that frustration,” she said. With Simmonds’ breakout performance, a good original score, and lovely cinematography, this film is cinema candy.