Sunday, October 22, 2017

Wonderstruck - You Will Be

Following the release of The Invention of Hugo Cabret in 2007 (adapted to film in 2011 as Hugo), author Brian Selznick released another book in 2011, Wonderstruck, which features a similar style of combining words and images into a narrative, this time telling two stories split between the two styles. Though I had not actually read Wonderstruck for the longest time after it was released, I got the chance to do so after meeting Selznick at a signing during this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, where he was promoting the recent film adaptation from Amazon Studios. I not only bought the book from him directly, I even had it signed by him and, due to my family also getting things signed, was able to have a friendly conversation with him about Hugo and what to expect from Wonderstruck. Within a month of the movie’s release, I had finally read the book in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed it, giving me high hopes for the movie (the screenplay to which was also written by Selznick). After seeing it as part of a limited run (prior to a wider release next month), I found it to be arguably comparable to Hugo in terms of the quality of the adaptation.

In 1977 Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, a young boy named Ben (Oakes Fegley) tries to learn more about his father, however his mother will not tell him anything, leading him to eventually run away in search of answers. In 1927 Hoboken, New Jersey, a young girl named Rose (Millicent Simmonds) has been following news on actress Lillian Mayhew and eventually runs away from home in order to seek her out. Both stories are told simultaneously, with the film switching between narratives at opportune moments.

The story of Wonderstruck is told in a rather interesting way that reflects how it was told in the original book. Ben’s story, told through text in the book, is shown in color; Rose’s story, reflecting being told through pictures in the source, is presented more like a silent movie, including the use of on-screen text to help carry the plot. The two narratives are interwoven fantastically, using clever transitions to display points when they mirror each other. Though the way movie tells the story works well in its own right, I will note that, as to be expected with adaptations, some elements from the book are either removed or condensed. I did, however, think these alterations helped make it work better for cinema, helped by Selznick having written the screenplay.

The acting in the movie was done well, with the more prominent child actors performing their roles in a very believable way. The music is also used well to set the time period of each tale, including an interesting usage of “Space Oddity” by the late David Bowie (which, incidentally, is actually a minor plot element in the original book). Much like Hugo, the movie also contains minimal use of special effects such that the movie is still grounded within reality and keeps the viewer emotionally invested.

While a great movie, Wonderstruck isn’t exactly flawless. I don’t really have much to complain about, aside from a point where it drags a little in the middle as though feeling the need to pad out the runtime. During one point in the middle of Ben’s story, they do a good job in establishing the setting, however it drags on a few minutes too long and can make you wish the movie would just hurry up and continue the plot. Once it does continue, however, the movie gets back into a fairly decent pace.

Wonderstruck, like Hugo, is a fantastic movie in its own right, on top of being a faithful adaptation, and I would recommend it for people looking for something different from the huge blockbusters coming out. If you are a fan of the original book and/or Brian Selznick’s work in general, I would highly recommend you see it. While a completely different movie from Hugo, I would still suggest fans give Wonderstruck a try on account of it adapting another of his books (just don’t go in expecting the same experience as Hugo). While I have not yet read Selznick’s latest book, The Marvels, at the time of this writing, I do hope for Wonderstruck to be successful enough to warrant adapting said book to complete the experience.

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