Cannes: Todd Haynes' 'Wonderstruck' Stakes Oscar Claim

The Amazon Studios film received a warm reception at its first press screening.

Todd Haynes just staked a claim for serious awards consideration as his newest film Wonderstruck had its first official press screening on Thursday morning at the Cannes Film Festival.

An inventive adaptation of Brian Selznick’s young adult novel of the same name, the film intercuts two separate stories: In 1927, Rose, a deaf girl living in Hoboken, New Jersey, heads to New York City in search of a celebrated actress, while in 1977, an orphaned boy is struck deaf and runs away from his home in Minnesota to New York in hopes of finding answers about his own past. Haynes takes risks with Wonderstruck, as Rose’s story is presented as a virtual silent movie and long stretches of the film contain no spoken dialogue at all.

Costume designer Sandy Powell served as the godmother who put the key players together. She suggested to Selznick, whom she knew from working on Martin Scorsese's Hugo, an adaptation of the author's The Invention of Hugo Cabret, that the book would make an ideal film for Haynes, with whom she works regularly, and so Selznick wrote his first screenplay, which was then presented to the director.

"The script was pretty extraordinary," Haynes explained at the post-screening press conference. "Brian's love of cinema and understanding and passion for film permeated the concept of the script. And so it was an intensely cinematic idea on the page." He continued, "For a filmmaker it was irresistible, and it also was about something I'd never really done before — it focuses on the imagination of kids, and yet it was constructed like a true mystery."

Wonderstruck got a polite burst of applause from the assembled press and can be expected to be welcomed with a lot of glowing reviews.

Haynes has been here before, of course. Two years ago, he debuted his last film Carol at Cannes, and it was just as warmly received. Launched into the awards conversation, it would eventually earn six Academy Award nominations, although on Oscar night, it did go home empty-handed.

Haynes — whose films have often filtered an appreciation of movie melodrama through an art house sensibility — has yet to be fully embraced by the Academy. While he’s been lionized within the indie film community, he has earned only one personal Oscar nomination to date — a best original screenplay nom for 2002’s Far From Heaven.

At first glance, Wonderstruck may not look like typical Academy fare. Its two biggest stars, Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams, play supporting roles, while the two leads on whose young shoulders the movie rests are 12-year-old Oakes Fegley, who previously starred in Disney’s Pete’s Dragon, and 14-year-old Millicent Simmonds, a deaf girl making her screen debut.

But it also boasts impeccable work by such frequent Haynes collaborators as cinematographer Edward Lachman, film editor Affonso Goncalves, production designer Mark Friedberg, costume designer Powell and composer Carter Burwell, to whose work attention must always be paid. "It is a film that really draws attention to the language of film in almost every conceivable way," Haynes said.

And when the two threads of its story finally intersect, it also glows with a well-earned emotional release.

Wonderstruck can be expected to get strong support from Amazon Studios, which is releasing the pic along with Roadside Attractions in the fall and which proved its awards bona fides last season as it promoted Manchester by the Sea to six Oscar noms and two wins.

Wonderstruck may not follow a conventional approach to its storytelling, but then, last year, neither did Moonlight, and it was eventually crowned best picture, suggesting that as the Academy has nurtured a more diverse and international membership, its taste is becoming more adventurous.

And while the 90th Academy Awards are more than nine months away, Haynes himself doesn’t shy away from the idea of the long promotional trek ahead. “I feel I learn a lot by promoting a film,” he told THR. “I accepted all the requests the Weinstein Co. asked of me on Carol. It wasn’t about the awards race. In this day and age where the theatrical venture is fading, it was about letting people know the film is out there, and it’s something worthy of seeing on the screen.”