Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. USA, 2017. Amazon Studios, Cinetic Media, FilmNation Entertainment, Killer Films, Picrow. Screenplay by Brian Selznick, based on his book. Cinematography by Edward Lachman. Produced by Pamela Koffler, John Sloss, Christine Vachon. Music by Carter Burwell. Production Design by Mark Friedberg. Costume Design by Sandy Powell. Film Editing by Affonso Goncalves. Cannes Film Festival 2017. Washington Film Critics Awards 2017.
A little boy (Oakes Fegley) in 1970s Minnesota, recently orphaned by the death of his loving mother (Michelle Williams in a quick flashback), loses his hearing after being struck by lightning and decides it is time to head to New York and seek out the father he never knew. The film cuts between this story and the tale of a hearing-impaired girl (a highly sympathetic Millicent Simmonds) in 1920s New Jersey who heads to the same city in search of her mother (Julianne Moore), a famous actress (modeled loosely on Lillian Gish). Returning to the multiple planes of narrative of his breakthrough feature Poison, director Todd Haynes films the boy’s story in the vivid Kodachrome hues of his era while presenting the young lady’s experience as an actual silent movie, filmed in monochrome and without dialogue to recreate both the protagonist’s existence and her connection with pre-talkie movies. Based on the book by Brian Selznick, who also wrote the source material for Hugo, we have another sweet mystery tale with young people as leads that links to the oldest days of cinema, but unlike Scorsese, Haynes can’t do lighthearted. The man who can give suffering so much precision and style turns out to have a leaden hand for tales of searching and healing, somehow permitting a shockingly bad performance from Fegley and his employing the worst cliches of child star acting. Neither strand of the story has any particular emotional resonance, a narrative full of secrets but no surprises, and it’s surprising the lack of technical skill that Haynes brings to his recreation of silent cinema (the brief moments in which he remakes what is essentially Sjostrom’s The Wind are particularly false), but it is at least told with a sincerity that provides a few rewards in the conclusion; just don’t expect to be mesmerized by all the details.