The last time we saw director Todd Haynes grace the red carpet at Cannes the world bared witness to the divine Carol, a film that once again saw plaudits thrown his way and also produced two outstanding performances from both Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. For his Cannes return, Haynes turns his focus towards two much younger performers to carry his latest offering, Wonderstruck, and they prove once again that this is a man behind the camera who can create sheer wonders.
Wonderstruck sees its narrative split into two time frames, with the first taking place in the 1970s and following young Ben (Oakes Fegley) as he struggles to cope with life after his mother’s (Michelle Williams) fatal death in a car crash. Fed up with life under the roof of his auntie, Ben – following a lightning strike that renders him death – takes off to New York City to search for the father he never knew.
The second of the narratives rewinds all the way back to the black-and-white days of silent film and the 1920s as Rose (breakout star Millicent Simmonds) looks to search for her idol, silent movie star Lillian Mayhew, in New York City as she escapes a home life with her less than understanding stepfather.
Providing us with a whimsical look at two very different eras, Haynes’ Wonderstruck is a sheer joy to behold, blissfully switching between the two time frames to create a wholly enjoyable and immersive story that unfolds into something rather wondrous.
In its two child stars, the film possesses its core to success; Pete’s Dragon star Fegley is a young actor who can make the heart melt with the look of sadness of sorrow in his eyes, while newcomer Simmonds – a death actress in real life – is simply incredible. Proving herself to be every bit the star that would light up the silent movie screens, a star is truly born as she evokes pure emotion at every opportunity and really drives the 1920s story to create something special.
It’s incredible to see such young talent driving Wonderstruck, especially as both Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams offer their own acting prowess to proceedings. Admittedly, Williams’ presence is limited, but Moore adds that extra level of emotional investment as she throws herself into both time frames with the utmost of ease.
The film is also aided by a scintillating score from Carter Burwell, especially driving the purely silent stretches of the movie. His score hits the right notes at every given moment, from a life-threatening step into a road in front of a passing car that almost jolts you in your seat, to the softer and more tender scenes, it’s an integral part of Haynes’ overall experience and is among one of the best of the year so far.
It’s no wonder Wonderstruck is in the Official Competition at this year’s festival and is already creating buzz for next year’s Oscars, as Todd Haynes has forged a truly remarkable piece of cinema that is whimsical poetry. While some will admittedly find the experience rather jarring in its jumping between time frames, it’s hard to deny that this is a film that is both gorgeous, beautiful and touching all rolled up into a whimsical package. A must-watch movie that makes a star out of the exceptional Millicent Simmonds.