(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was to describe an abstract concept in terms of more concrete words, so I picked the obvious choice for this film, namely wonder.)
Wonder is a pair of eyes
Wide and twice their normal size,
Rising in an optic smile
In case the mouth can’t do likewise,
Hanging open in surprise,
Not caring if it hangs awhile.
Wonder is in aeroplanes
Thrilling 1903 brains,
Moving pictures scaring crowds
Who flinched at filmed approaching trains,
And computers making gains
That no one dreamed, at least out loud.
Wonder is in works of art
Seen before they’re known by heart,
Creatures people rarely find,
The goosebumps of a ball game’s start,
Zoos, museums that impart
Their awe, and firsts of every kind.
Wonder is a city block
New, once-sheltered tourists walk,
High skyscrapers tilting heads.
It’s found in mountaintops of rock,
In galaxy and swooping hawk;
There wonder weaves its welcome threads.
MPAA rating: PG
Did anyone else notice the preponderance of 2017 movies with “wonder” in the title? We had Wonderstruck, Wonder Woman, its biopic cousin Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel, and the inspirational Wonder with Jacob Tremblay. Amazon Studios’ Wonderstruck may have gotten lost amid all the others, but it’s the one that most strives for the actual “wonder” in its name.
I say “strive” because it doesn’t quite reach it, though I can certainly appreciate the effort. Based on a Brian Selznick novel, the story is something of a double period piece, with two stories playing out fifty years apart. In 1977, an orphaned boy named Ben (Oakes Fegley, just as genuine and in need of a haircut as in Pete’s Dragon) suffers an accident but manages to sneak off to New York City in search of his mysterious father. Parallel to Ben’s quest is that of young Rose (Millicent Simmonds of A Quiet Place, who is actually hearing impaired), a deaf girl in 1927 who also searches New York for her mother. Each story nails the visual aesthetic of its time period, with Ben’s yellow-tinted settings, music, and surrounding fashions screaming ‘70s, while Rose’s experiences are like The Artist, all in black-and-white and silent to reflect both her deafness and the silent films she loves.
I will applaud Wonderstruck for its gentleness and commitment to remaining family-friendly when such films are rare these days. Its stylistic choices and excellent acting also add to its appeal, while the editing between the two stories can be a little too frequent at times. I suppose my main complaint is it tries too hard to inject “wonder” and mystery in a way that feels like padding by the end. Just like with Hugo, another Selznick adaptation, so much time and interest are spent on the mystery that its sort of a letdown when you find out it’s something that could have been told within minutes, making me wonder why certain characters are so cryptic. At one point, a character waits to reveal the truth until she takes Ben across town, even as he restlessly wants to get to the point, not unlike me.
Ultimately, Wonderstruck is a curiosity, with a palpable love for museums and storytelling and a touching ending, and like Hugo, the passion on display goes a long way to keeping viewers engaged, though the visuals can’t match Scorsese’s film. It’s nice to see that a quality live-action family film can still get made, even if it’s not quite as fascinating as it means to be.
Rank: Honorable Mention
© 2018 S.G. Liput
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