Wonderstruck

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Wonderstruck Movie Poster Image
Thoughtful, arty take on excellent Selznick novel.
  • PG
  • 2017
  • 117 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 2 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

Although it should be noted that running away from home -- even for what seems like a good reason -- particularly to a major city, isn't something to encourage, the movie has several positive messages. Foremost is the ongoing power of unconditional love between family and friends. Curiosity and a thirst for knowledge are also important, as is perseverance.

Positive role models & representations

Several positive role models, including Ben's late, loving mother and Rose's older brother, Walter, who's caring, protective, and understanding. Ben and Rose are both brave, loyal, and devoted to their mothers. They overcome considerable odds (although running away isn't something kids should copy...) to find the people they needed to see. It's rare (and refreshing) to see protagonists who are deaf.

Violence

Ben has scary nightmares about wolves that wake him up in a sweat. The city poses a threat to the kids on a few occasions, as when Rose is almost run over or when Ben is mugged the day he arrives in New York (his money is stolen, but he's not physically hurt). It's also slightly scary when the kids are on their own, especially when others don't know they're deaf. It's disturbing when the lightning strikes and Ben ends up in the hospital and also when there's a citywide blackout near the end. References to Ben's mom's death in a car accident. Characters yell at each other.

Sex

Reference to the fact that Ben's single mother had a love affair with his long-lost father. Some fairly skimpy summer outfits in the 1970s NYC scenes. Ben walks past a XXX theater.

Language

Infrequent use of words/phrases including "shut up," "crazy," and "oh my God." 

Consumerism

Brands/logos seen include Pepsi, 7-Up. 

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Adults and one teen smoke in a couple of scenes. An adult has a drink.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Wonderstruck is based on author-illustrator Brian Selznick's award-winning novel, which follows two deaf 12-year-old characters -- one in 1977 and one in 1927 -- as they run away from home to New York City to look for family members and eventually end up at the American Museum of Natural History. Like Hugo, which is also based on a Selznick novel, this is a family-friendly historical adventure that explores similar themes of family, friendship, and the importance of perseverance, curiosity, art, and science. There's not too much iffy stuff (other than the "running away" situation, of course), but the half that occurs in the 1920s is black and white and silent and may be difficult for younger viewers to follow. There are also a few potentially upsetting scenes, including nightmares about scary wolves, an angry-looking father yelling at his daughter, a boy losing his hearing after being electrocuted (via lightning), and a young character getting all his money stolen in New York City. Characters smoke, and there are a few uses of words like "shut up" and "oh my God."

User Reviews

Adult Written byideafurnace October 12, 2017

Drama film with Julianne Moore is fine for tweens

This film starring Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams is a well-done but uneven drama film directed by Todd Haynes. This film includes smoking, but if your ki... Continue reading
Parent of a 7 and 9 year old Written bySean M. November 10, 2017

A not that great family film

Family film - yes Good film - no Slow start with poorly developed plot and questionable editing that may be hard for the 10 and under set to follow. Somewhat c... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old November 20, 2017

An Exciting a Movie Addition To One Of My Favorite Books!

I went to a premiere of this movie with a friend, and Brian Selznick was actually there! It was totally awesome. The movie is pretty exciting, gets off to a slo... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byLaxGirl13 March 22, 2018

A little confusing

I found this movie quite confusing, to be honest. I now realize that might have been the point, for the audience to feel what it was like to be deaf, but I stil... Continue reading

What's the story?

Based on Brian Selznick's award-winning 2011 book, Wonderstruck chronicles the adventures of two 12-year-old characters 50 years apart. In 1977 Minnesota, Ben (Oakes Fegley) is grieving the death of his single mother (Michelle Williams), who died in an accident before she could tell Ben anything about his father. He frequently dreams of wolves. And in 1927 New Jersey, Rose (Millicent Simmonds) is obsessed with silent movie star Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore) and would rather make paper models of cities or attend matinees than attend tutoring sessions. While rifling through his mom's belongings, Ben comes across a copy of an old book called Wonderstruck and finds a New York City bookstore bookmark with the inscription "Love, Danny" inside. When he tries to call the bookstore's number during a storm, lightning travels through the phone line, rendering him deaf. Back in 1927, we discover that Rose, too, is deaf. Both stories lead to the tweens running away to New York City and, more specifically, to the American Museum of Natural History, which plays a key role in the film. Eventually, Ben and Rose's adventures in the city converge in an unexpected way.

Is it any good?

It says something about the power of Selznick's books that first Martin Scorsese and now Todd Haynes has lovingly adapted his beautiful stories into films that adults and older children enjoy. Like Scorsese, Haynes had never made a family-friendly film before tackling Selznick's unique dual-narrative story. In the book, Rose's 1927 arc is rendered via illustrations, while Ben's is in text; in the movie, Haynes tackles the contrast by making Rose's storyline a silent, black-and-white film with swelling, captivating music by composer Carter Burwell. Since audiences can't hear the 1920s dialogue, Haynes hired mostly deaf actors to play hearing characters. Back in Ben's timeline, we hear and see the bustling, gritty, colorful world of New York City in the late '70s -- except for moments when Haynes wants to emphasize Ben's new deafness. The contrasts are sharp -- color, sounds, and a full 50 years -- but the magical power of New York City (muggers, crowded streets, potential dangers, and all) is clear in both narratives.

The young actors do a terrific job conveying the frustration, curiosity, heartache, and wonder they feel (sometimes all at once). Moore, one of Haynes' on-screen muses and best collaborators, binds the story together, playing a character in each time period. Williams, who's always wonderful, doesn't disappoint in her small role as Ben's mom, who appears in several flashbacks. And each young main character has a standout helper: Ben nearly instantly makes a friend -- Jamie (Jaden Michael), a young Puerto Rican boy whose father is a security guard at the museum -- while Rose finds her much older brother, Walter (Cory Michael Smith), who takes in his little sister. Haynes remains true to Selznick's exploration of museums, curators, the World's Fair, theater, and the natural sciences, and it's such a joy to see a beloved book so well captured.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about who the role models are in Wonderstruck. How do they demonstrate curiosity and perseverance? Why are those important character strengths?

  • How does the film portray Rose's and Ben's deafness? Why do you think few films and TV shows focus on deaf characters -- and people with disabilities in general?

  • What is the movie's message about the importance of museums? Does it make you want to visit the American Museum of Natural History in New York City? What are your favorite museums?

  • Talk about how the book's dual narration translates to the screen. What do you think of the filmmaker's decision to depict the 1920s as silent? Did you prefer one character's story to the other? What did you think of the ending?

Movie details

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