Loneliness. Confusion. Regret. These are emotions we rarely, if ever, associate with children. But, due to the age of social media and cyber bullying, it has become more of the norm. In Wonderstruck, based on the Brian Selznick novel of the same name, we are infused into the world of Ben and Rose. Two children, fifty year apart se on quests to find their parents and what they discover in the process is truly wondrous. For both young people, their inability to hear and communicate makes their quest in New York City dangerous and exciting.
Despite starring Oscar nominee Michelle Williams and Oscar winner Julianne Moore, the most fascinating aspect of this film was that is totally held down by its young stars Oakes Fegley, Jaden Michael and Millicent Simmonds.
Directed by Academy Award director Todd Haynes, you feel the characters and understand completely the world in which they exist. Just as in his 50’s drama Far From Heaven, Haynes is a master of genre in the sense that he makes the audience feel as thought what they are watching is being experienced in this century. when describing the source material, Haynes says, “The book works at the deepest level of evoking the imagination and allowing spaces to fill in the gaps yourself…The fact that it created dialogue between these two periods of time (1920’s and 1970’s) just begged to be turned into the language of cinema.
There are few things that make Wonderstruck compelling, fascinating and some of Todd Haynes finest work to date. It’s designed and received as a black and white story told as a silent film in the 20’s. Both young leads are deaf. One born into a world of silence and the other one deaf due to a lightning accident. Haynes went to great lengths to ensure that deafness was embedded in the film’s creative process by adding deaf actors as hearing characters in the film. A lot of them came from deaf theatre, brought their own experiences and points of view and during the silent era, deaf actors were employed all the time because they were so expressive.
13-year-old Millicent Simmonds was cast as Rose in the silent film portion and had never been in front of a camera before. When I tell you, you can’t take your eyes off this young lady…I hardly exaggerate. She absolutely owns every moment on-screen with no dialogue. Her ability to evoke emotion with a gaze or with her body is an amazing sight to behold.
The friendship of Ben and Jaime (played to playful perfection by Oakes Fegley and Jaden Michael) will take you right back to finding your first best friend and all the complexity that comes along with that in a heartbeat. The fact that their skin tone is of a different hue ma
kes absolutely no difference. That’s the beauty of being a child and the beauty of these two young talented actors. You believe them every single second and your heart breaks right along with them when the friendship hits a snag.
The manner in which the story seamlessly weaves between the 20’s and the 70’s makes Wonderstruck one of the most unusual films I have seen to date. By the time the ending comes, I was flabbergasted at how it all finally tied together. It was like watching a life-size, fully animated jigsaw puzzle come to life.
I recently sat down with two of the young stars Oakes Fegley and Jaden Michael about their roles, playing deaf and shooting in NYC. Take a listen….
INTERVIEW WITH WONDERSTRUCK STARS OAKES FEGLEY AND JADEN MICHAEL
Wonderstruck, produced by Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions, opens in select cities on October 20th and nationwide on November 10th.