This is an exponentially auspicious Friday for fans of Julianne Moore, who appears in two movies — the George Clooney-directed Suburbicon and Wonderstruck — playing double roles in each.
That’s four times the Julianne Moore.
Wonderstruck reunites her with Todd Haynes (Safe, Far From Heaven), a director whose affinity for offbeat period drama finds a slightly different pitch here, filtered through Brian Selznick’s YA novel (he also wrote the screenplay).
Wonderstruck tells the parallel (and mystically linked) stories of two children: one a girl (Millicent Simmonds) looking for her mother (Moore) in 1920s Manhattan, the other boy (Oakes Fegley) who runs away from his Minnesota home to 1970s New York, looking for the father he never knew.
The girl’s mother is a star of silent film, a wrinkle that provides Haynes an opportunity — or perhaps an excuse — to present this portion of the film as a facsimile of a black-and-white pre-talkie. Composer Carter Burwell sure has fun with the period accompaniment.
This is more than just a movie-making stunt — Wonderstruck is about the linking of the past to present, the way art and artifacts carry the residue of the people who made them. Properly understood and appreciated, these objects can unite people, even those separated by decades.
That theme is reflected in a narrative that brings each child to the Museum of Natural History, where we see their hands touch the same objects, their eyes view the same exhibits.
They somehow belong there, though for different reasons. Young Ben seems guided by destiny — he’s a runaway, penniless in the city, literally bumping into another boy whose father happens to work at the museum, leading to a private tour of hidden treasures that contains important clues to the central mystery of the young man’s life.
The period details in this half of the movie are less pronounced, suggested by a familiar David Bowie tune and a Robert Fripp/Brian Eno collaboration which, though more obscure (I thought I was the only one that bought that album), works nicely with the movie’s gentle tone.
Wonderstruck, for all of it’s child-in-danger plotting, has a warmth that points (along with the title) to a safe and sentimental conclusion (where Moore makes another appearance). When it arrives, though, it lands with a curious lack of emotional impact — perhaps inevitable, given the nature of a story that seeks to connect characters who are rarely and sometimes never on screen together.
- Directed by Todd Haynes. With Julianne Moore, Oakes Fegley, Millicent Simmonds, Tom Noonan, and Michelle Williams. Distributed by Amazon Studios.
- Parents guide: PG (smoking)
- Running time: 1 hour, 53 mins.
- Playing at: Area theaters