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‘Wonderstruck’ uses movie magic to convey childlike astonishment

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(From left) Jaden Michael, Oakes Fegley and Julianne Moore get Wonderstruck.
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Three and a half stars

Wonderstruck Oakes Fegley, Millicent Simmonds, Julianne Moore. Directed by Todd Haynes. Rated PG. Opens Friday at South Point and Village Square.

Filmmaker Todd Haynes (Carol, Velvet Goldmine) might seem like an odd choice to adapt a family-friendly story about the magic of childhood, but Brian Selznick’s illustrated novel Wonderstruck proves to be surprisingly effective source material for Haynes’ movie-mad style, just as Selznick’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret did for Martin Scorsese. The story takes place during two eras, both of which Haynes re-creates with the look of movies that were released contemporaneously.

In 1977, 12-year-old Ben (Oakes Fegley) runs away from his Minnesota hometown, heading to New York City in hopes of finding the father he’s never met. Fifty years earlier, 12-year-old Rose (Millicent Simmonds) also runs away to New York City, escaping her overbearing father in New Jersey. Both children are deaf—Ben thanks to a recent accident and Rose since birth—and Haynes uses the movie’s styles (Rose’s segments are shot as a black-and-white silent film) to represent the ways in which they process the world.

The parallel stories unfold slowly, and like Scorsese did with Hugo, Haynes sometimes adds a bit too much ornamentation to the material. But there’s a certain delightful spark to the way the lives of the two kids intersect, and Haynes and his talented young actors capture the overwhelming joy that can come from discovering the secrets of the world. It takes a little time, but the movie lives up to its title.

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

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