Friday, November 03, 2017

Hearing-Impaired But Well Worth Seeing: A Silent Voice & Wonderstruck

I wasn't necessarily planning this as a themed cross-town double bill, in part because the obvious dobule feature was Geostorm and A Silent Voice at the Common with Wonderstruck being the "if time and T allows" bonus. Also, while I knew that both of these films had deaf kids as characters, I didn't know quite how central that would be. It turns out to be pretty important, but also far from their defining characteristic in both.

It was a pretty good thing I opted for both over the weekend, because it doesn't look like either will be around long enough to catch again after I return from vacation, with both being cut down to half a theater's screenings for the day at the multiplexes (and if the Coolidge is still giving Wonderstruck a full slate, I'm guessing that at least a few are in the video rooms). Of course, that feels like a bit of a victory for A Silent Voice - a second week for an animated foreign film is a pretty good showing - but kind of a bummer for Wonderstruck, which looked like it was getting a platform release, maybe looking for awards consideration. I think that the original novel is kind of a big deal, too, not Harry Potter-level popular but considered noteworthy when it came out a few years ago, especially since it hit at roughly the same time as the Hugo film.

Looking at both in terms of niece-appropriateness, I'm thinking they're both more for the 11-year old rather than her younger sister or cousins, and I'd probably recommend Wonderstruck more, and she might even dig it a little more since she learned some ASL when she was really little. Heck, she'd be getting it for Christmas if the release windows were shorter, and when I pre-order mine, I'll probably get one to save until her birthday next October.

Koe no katachi (A Silent Voice)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 October 2017 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

Redemption stories are hard, whether in fiction or real life, and this one probably has a tougher uphill climb than most, taking the perspective of a boy who bullied a deaf girl in elementary school and flipping it so that he winds up the outcast. It's not easy to get the audience behind him, especially when she is often the one still desperate for his interest and approval. Fortunately, A Silent Voice has time to get the audience there, even though it's easy to dig in and say you'll never forgive.

The film starts ominously, with 17-year-old Shoya Ishida (voice of Miyu Irino) putting his affairs in order in preparation for April 15th, the day he plans to jump off a bridge. He's shunned at school now, but he was a popular kid back in sixth grade, at least until the deaf but eager-to-please Shoko Nishimiya joined his class and was given the seat in front of him. Kids don't make accommodations well, and while most of the class talked about Shoko behind her back, Shoya was the worst, eventually ripping her hearing aids right out of her ears and eventually crossing a line that had Shoko transfer schools and the rest of his class turn on him. He's trying to be a better person now, stepping in when he sees classmate Tomohiro Nagatsuka (voice of Kenshio Ono) being bullied and trying to make amends to Shoko (voice of Saori Hayami). She seems receptive, but her sister Yuzuru (voice of Aoi Yuki) is very protective and not the only one suspicious of Shoya.

The rapprochement between Shoya and Shoko seems to happen awful fast, maybe with a step or two missing from the story (director Naoko Yamada and screenwriter Reiko Yoshida seem to have a little trouble deciding where the present-day story should pick up). But, then, it's not like teenagers have ever made a whole lot of sense, and one thing A Silent Voice does right is to let its kids be changeable and over-emotional, way too willing to place blame in the wrong place. Eventually, the filmmakers come up with a way to make their unlikely connection work - it must be a hell of a thing to be that young and feel you've got such little worth - and they've played it out at just the right pace to make the audience go with it. Mostly, though, they do well in observing the mechanics of blame; the moment when young Shoya sees all the responsibility falling on him is true, as are later ones where people are trying to parse motivations in ways that will inevitably see them fall short.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 October 2017 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

A couple of people in the audience for Wonderstruck were saying this wasn't a PG movie as we exited the theater, and, yeah, it's heavy at times, and I'm sure that my brother and sister-in-law are going to cringe at some of the scenes of 1977 New York when I give a copy to my niece for her 12th birthday next year, but she's a smart kid, and bright girls like her should be able to handle it. This movie is frequently sad and occasionally scary, but it's also ambitious and kind of terrific, the sort of smart entertainment middle-schoolers deserve.

It's built around two great, parallel performances, with Oakes Fegley as Ben, an orphaned boy who runs away to New York to learn about his the father he never met, and Millicent Simmonds as Rose, a girl the same age who did the same thing to see her absent mother fifty years earlier. Though both play hearing-impaired characters (with Simmonds herself Deaf), they are given very different approaches to their similar stories: There's a restlessness to Fegley's Ben, a chip on his shoulder that doesn't make him mean but does have him defensive quickly, and Fegley does a fine job of showing him on edge emotionally even if he can seem seem overly relaxed in how he deals with what seems like a dangerous world around him. He's got a great rapport with Jaden Michael, who plays the kid Ben meets in New York - the pair bring out their characters' curiosity, and Michael plays Jamie's more subtle loneliness as a muted but still keen reflection of Ben's.

Simmonds, meanwhile, plays a character who has been deaf since birth and isolated because of it, and as a result her defiance is more baked-in, her body language a bit stiff and like she's pushing through something. But even when she's doing that, there's a mischievous streak of creativity to her, a sense that concentrating on a problem or a discovery takes her away from the unfairness she must spend much of her time dealing with, and a genuine joy when she finds a situation where her disability is actually irrelevant, whether it be the wonders within New York's American Museum of Natural History or the brother who is genuinely fond of her. Simmonds often holds up her end of the movie without a lot of obvious help, especially since, with the exception of some fine work by Julianne Moore, the most recognizable folks in both halves (Moore, James Urbaniak, Michelle Williams, and Tom Noonan) are often in small but well-placed roles, with the kids carrying most of the film.

Full review on EFC.

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