Film Review: Wonderstruck

Director Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck is whimsical and enchanting. The film is captivating at times.

Ben is a young boy living in the 1970s who wants to know who is father is. Rose is a girl in the 1920s obsessed with a silent movie star. Both Ben and Rose’s obsessions lead them to New York City…

Based on Brian Selznick’s novel, with a screenplay written by Selznick himself, Wonderstruck is a charming tale of friendship and discovery. The film focuses on two strands which eventually become entwined. Each of these strands are depicted in a distinct way.

The film blends mystery with drama, and a little bit of comedy. Haynes’ protagonists are children, and he positions viewers to see things through their eyes. There is a sense of wonder which is unshakeable. The astonishment at being in Manhattan will be familiar to anyone who has been to the city as a visitor.

Given that the protagonists are deaf, it is no surprise that there is not an abundance of dialogue. This does not hinder Haynes from conveying emotions, or nuance. The burgeoning friendship between Ben and Jamie is lovely to watch. Rose, meanwhile, comes into her own in the second half of the film.

Cinematography in the film is great. New York is beautifully photographed in both eras the film is set. Haynes draws a distinction between periods with the use of colour and black and white. This is further emphasised by Carter Burwell’s brilliant score, and the soundtrack overall. Performances in the film are great, especially from the young cast. Oakes Fegley, Millicent Simmonds and Jaden Michael are all great, and Julianne Moore is as reliable as ever.

Wonderstruck is an ode to curiosity. It is sometimes sentimental but ever so charming.

Wonderstruck is screening at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017.

Film Review: Carol

Carol

Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, Carol is a sumptuous and engaging romantic drama.

Working in a department store in New York, shop girl Therese meets married older lady Carol when the latter comes into the store to buy a Christmas gift. The two embark on a friendship that spells danger for Carol’s home life…

Director Todd Haynes’ Carol is a entertaining drama which offers good performances and great production values. The film concentrates on the relationship between the wealthy Carol and the younger shop girl Therese in a time when any non-traditional relationship was taboo or worse. The film works in social issues of its 1950s setting in a way that seems a natural outcome of the relationship.

Haynes’ direction and Phyllis Nagy’s screenplay are effective at keeping viewers engaged throughout the film. Carol and Therese’s relationship is portrayed in a compelling way; the writing and performances make it easy to get on board with the protagonists. Both characters are depicted in a believable fashion, and are given enough personality to engage with the audience. Viewers will root for the couple, even if their union looks doomed. The ending of the film is a brilliant stroke.

The period setting calls for issues with a same-sex relationship to be at the forefront. Carol respects this; the film’s narrative allows for a number of different aspects to be brought up. The illustrations of these problems are entirely convincing. Moreover, the film highlights other differences in Carol and Therese’s relationship, namely age and class. These social issues are dealt with a slighter hand, yet still represent the constraints of the period.

Cate Blanchett delivers as competent a performance as ever; she is completely convincing as Carol. Rooney Mara offers perhaps her best performance to date. Her quiet understatement seems perfect for Therese. Carter Burwell’s score is magnificent, and Sandy Powell’s costumes are wonderful. This is particularly true of Blanchett’s glamorous wardrobe.

In spite of the social issues at play, Carol is ultimately a love story. The film is a finely executed piece of romantic drama.

Carol is being screened at the London Film Festival in October 2015.