Deaf actress Millicent Simmonds earns raves, as does film's technical achievements

Todd Haynes has, for the most part, enchanted critics on the Croisette once again.

Two years after his six-time Oscar-nominated drama Carol bowed as part of the Cannes competition in 2015, the acclaimed director has positioned himself as an early awards contender on the festival circuit yet again with Wonderstruck, which had its first press screening Thursday morning at the annual event’s 2017 edition, and early reviews are, with a few exceptions, largely positive, with particular praise highlighting the performance of 14-year-old deaf newcomer Millicent Simmonds, Haynes’ direction, and the film’s aesthetics.

Wonderstruck is nothing if not a Todd Haynes movie. And it’s an exquisite one, at that. Fresh off the greatest triumph of his career (that would be Carol), Haynes is still operating near the peak of his powers, returning to Cannes with an immaculately crafted fable about the ways in which people of all ages learn to break out of their bodies and connect with the world,” David Ehrlich writes for IndieWire, going on to praise Carter Burwell’s original score as tying the project up with “an incredible sense of cohesion,” adding that Wonderstruck is “a soul-stirring and fiercely uncynical film that suggests the entire world is a living museum for the people we’ve lost, and that we should all hope to leave some of ourselves behind in its infinite cabinet of wonders.”

Lauding the performances of Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore, Thompson on Hollywood‘s Anne Thompson writes: “Stars Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore are both terrific in supporting roles, helping the children at its center to tell their story. This movie will play for both smart adults and kids. But it will really play for the Academy, which will appreciate its visual and aural sophistication.” Referencing the film’s plot, which charts the parallels between two impaired, wandering children living in separate time periods (one in 1927, the other in 1977), continues: “Academy voters will appreciate the loving devotion to craft and degree of difficulty on display in this film, which Ed Lachman shot on negative color film, in black and white and color, in a wide aspect ratio (Haynes’ first since I’m Not There).”

Both Lachman and Burwell were previously nominated by the Academy for their work on Carol. Though he’s yet to win an Academy Award, Haynes was nominated for writing the screenplay for 2002’s Far From Heaven, which was widely considered a frontrunner for a best picture nod in its year of release, though it was ultimately shut out of the category, as Carol was in 2016. He has remained a fixture on the prestige scene since 1995’s Cannes event, where he launched Safe (also starring Moore). His Velvet Goldmine also competed for the Palme d’Or in 1998. Carol won both the Queer Palm and the Best Actress honor, which star Rooney Mara tied with Mon Roi‘s Emmanuelle Bercot.

Credit: Cinetic Media

And yet again, Haynes was lifted up for his singular take on what could have registered as conventional family fare (the film is rated PG) in the hands of another filmmaker.

“Todd Haynes is a transcendent filmmaker, one who can haunt your imagination and carry you away, but in Wonderstruck, there’s more artistry in his storytelling than there is in the intricate mechanical story he’s telling. We’re watching a visionary humanist apply his luminous voice to a piece of emotional Tinkertoy,” Owen Gleiberman, writing for Variety, says. “Haynes, working from a script by Selznick, guides and serves the material with supreme craftsmanship. For a while, he casts a spell… ”

Roadside Attractions and Amazon Studios are said to be mounting a sturdy campaign to lift Wonderstruck into the Oscar conversation through the fall festival circuit ahead of its planned Oct. 20 domestic release date. Since 2012, four of the Academy’s five best picture winners — including Argo, 12 Years a Slave, Birdman, Moonlight — have been released in the month of October. Spotlight, 2015’s winner, missed that cutoff by six days, hitting theaters on Nov. 6.

In terms of Wonderstruck‘s current Oscar prospects, judging by the response of film journalists, Simmonds is the film’s best acting bet (her work is being hailed as a breakthrough), and she could become the Academy’s first deaf honoree since Marlee Matlin triumphed for leading 1986’s Children of a Lesser God. Moore reportedly has minimal screen time and gives a solid, if not overwhelmingly memorable, performance.

Working in Simmonds’ favor, Cannes has a notable track record of setting Oscar-bound performances in motion, particularly for women, so even Moore — a perennial Oscar favorite, with four Oscar nods on top of a single win — stands to gain momentum as the season trucks on. It’s important to note that, since 2007, 13 women who’ve appeared in Cannes-debuting films have gone on to either win or be nominated for an acting Oscar as opposed to nine men.

Check out what critics are saying about Wonderstruck in the review excerpts below.

David Ehrlich (IndieWire)
“That last crescendo does arrive, and with seismic force, the film climaxing with a 10-minute expository monologue in which Haynes reaches all the way back to “Superstar” in order to find the perfect visual language. His choice, and the revelations that result, are best experienced for the first time at their proper moment, but his idiosyncratic solution underlines the raw memory of objects in a film that attributes so much to how we choose to curate them. The film’s tidy coda may be more emotionally transparent than most of Haynes’ works, but the beautiful sequence is no less wrenching for that. This is a soul-stirring and fiercely uncynical film that suggests the entire world is a living museum for the people we’ve lost, and that we should all hope to leave some of ourselves behind in its infinite cabinet of wonders.”

Anne Thompson (Thompson on Hollywood)
“Because it’s told from the points of view of two deaf characters, the visually sophisticated movie relies on complex sound design and Carter Burwell’s evocative score covering two time periods. You can give him the Oscar nomination for Best Original Score right now. The movie wouldn’t work without it and it will be hard to beat.”

David Rooney (The Hollywood Reporter)
“Todd Haynes is back with his past muse Julianne Moore, but it’s her junior co-stars who hold the spotlight in this enthralling adaptation of Brian Selznick’s illustrated novel for young readers… Haynes has always been a ravishing visual storyteller, and his seventh feature is as seductively crafted as anything he’s made, with exquisite contributions from invaluable frequent collaborators including cinematographer Ed Lachman, production designer Mark Friedberg and costumer Sandy Powell. Perhaps even more notable here is the work of composer Carter Burwell, who has created distinct musical moods for the narrative’s parallel threads, following the adventures of two runaway deaf kids 50 years apart, with the sounds subtly folded together as their stories intersect.”

Owen Gleiberman (Variety)
“Anyone can strew trash around a set, but when Ben wanders into the bus station, with its graffiti-dripped escalators, Haynes creates a shockingly dilapidated landscape, fraught with sleaze and danger, that’s like a time machine bringing you back to the days when New York really did look like a dystopian Planet of the Apes sequel. Re-creating the seediness of Times Square and the droopiness of the Upper West Side, the director, working with the great cinematographer Ed Lachman, adopts a shooting style that’s quintessential ’70s — much deep focus, with grainy vibrant colors and heatwaves in the air, and the marvelous ‘Superfly’-gone-diva funk of Esther Phillips’ ‘All the Way Down’ on the soundtrack. Yet experienced through Ben’s eyes, and his lack of ears (there’s sound, but very little dialogue), the effect isn’t squalid so much as it is beautiful. Haynes sees the rotted-out city as a marvel, an amusement park of entropy.”

Richard Lawson (Vanity Fair)
“So, that’s what I don’t like. But here’s what is great about the movie: Carter Burwell’s utterly captivating, wholly necessary score. It’s the true star of Wonderstruck, a strange and varied piece of work, swells of orchestral strings giving way to electric guitar, alternately soaring and lilting. Haynes heavily, and smartly, relies on the music to take us to grand emotional places, and the film is at its best when it lets itself be swept up in the majesty and mystery of Burwell’s compositions. These are the moments when one sincerely feels struck by an enveloping wonder—how marvelous, that light and sound can still transport us so—before the film grows sticky and dismayingly uninspiring once more. It’s perhaps a cruel irony that a movie about deafness is most ennobled by what we hear.”

Credit: Amazon Studios
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