This arthouse Todd Haynes adaptation of Brian Selznick’s graphic and text novel looks lovely but lacks the pace and complexity to keep its readership engaged.
The two protagonists, Ben (Oakes Fegley) and Rose (Millicent Simmonds), look to be around 12 but the 12-year-olds I know would struggle with what seems to be a rather infantile story line. Gone is the Gothic intricacy and suspense of the book, replaced with platitudes and hokum.
Two, at first inexplicably, intertwined stories set 50 years apart alternate. Ben, in Gunflint Minnesota in 1977, lives with his aunt and cousins in the house next to his own after the death of his mother (Michelle Williams). Searching through her belongings as a storm rages, a lightning strike leaves him temporarily deaf. Finding a clue, he sets off alone to New York in search of his unknown and unnamed father.
In Hoboken in 1927, Rose obsesses over movie star Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore) and runs away to try and find her in Manhattan. Deaf, she has to navigate a world full of people and motivations she doesn’t understand.
In each story, glimpses parallel and reference each other; Ben talks to his mother about stars and Rose cuts out a magazine clipping about movie stars; Ben is told to be careful of the storm and then Rose watches a silent film of Lillian’s called Daughter of the Storm.
The story of Rose is in black-and-white and, rather cutely as she lives in a world of silence, mimics the overemphasised style of silent films. This involves emphatic piano music, dialogue mouthed silently or written on cards and exaggerated gestures from the nameless characters she meets. In contrast, Ben’s New York is all 70s tank tops and soul music.
Eventually I lost interest in both stories. There is a book. There are adventures in the American Museum of Natural History. I’m sure eventually there’s a point and I would put money on Ben meeting up with Rose in the 70s, or maybe Lillian Mayhew to make the most of the casting of Haynes favourite Julianne Moore. But I didn’t wait to find out and sacrificed the ending for a coffee and an early place in the queue for my next film.
Have you seen this film? Did it eventually have a point? Let me know what you thought in the comments below.