There are few directors better than Todd Haynes at adopting varied voices and vernaculars and then blending them to create something intoxicating and new. An adaptation of a young adult novel by Brian Selznick, Haynes' vitally personal Wonderstruck follows two timelines: In one, 12-year-old Ben (Oakes Fegley), living in small-town Minnesota in 1977 and mourning the death of his librarian mother (Michelle Williams), finds a stray bookmark that may hold a clue to the identity of the father he never knew. Rendered deaf by a lightning strike (no, really), and feeling more and more like an outcast, Ben hops a bus for New York City. Intercut with his story is that of Rose (an incredible Millicent Simmonds), a deaf girl living in Hoboken in 1927 and obsessed with a silent movie star (Julianne Moore). Frustrated with her sheltered life and her domineering father, she, too, heads to the city, where she hopes to find this mysterious woman.
As these kids discover New York in their own ways, Wonderstruck switches between the silent-film aesthetics of Rose's journey (no dialogue, striking angles, bold emotions) and the '70s stylizations of Ben's (zooms, fast-cutting, handheld shots, tight close-ups). But the intercutting isn't clean -- the styles sometimes mix and riff off each other. For lengthy stretches, Wonderstruck plays like a city symphony. I wondered if the denouement could ever do justice to the constantly shifting, jazzy zigzag of the tease, but Haynes gives us an extended finale that not only offers emotional payoff to the held-breath anticipation of the story, but also serves as a tribute to storytelling itself -- and to the wonders of following your dreams and maybe even your nightmares.