Tag Archives: Millicent Simmonds

SXSW: A Quiet Place

A family tiptoes barefoot through a deserted city, collecting food and medical supplies before their long walk back home to the family farm. The daughter is deaf but the whole family communicates silently. It is clear that not one sound must be made, not a single sound, even if it is not yet clear why that would be.

In the great style of horror movies, we know soon enough: beasts, monsters or aliens, whatever you call them, they hunt by sound. You’re safe as long as you’re silent – but who can remain truly silent, and for how long? In the year or so since the attacks started MV5BNGRhMWRhNzEtOGM2NC00MGNjLWE2ZTEtMzE0NDk1ZmU5YmYwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQ0MDUyMzg@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_happening, it’s clear this family was quicker than most to adapt. They appear to be among the only survivors. But even if you can manage to never speak, to never laugh – can you also manage to never knock over a glass of water? To never sneeze? And what about the poor mother, visibly nearing the end of a pregnancy. Can she labour in silence, and what about the newborn – won’t his first act be to cry? In fact, this movie keeps you so on edge I despaired as the mother doled out fish and veggies for dinner. Were the vegetables suitably soft? A particularly crisp cucumber could spell certain death.

You likely heard me bellyaching about having to survive a horror movie for SXSW’s opening night film, but I wanted to do it for Emily Blunt, and her husband\director, John Krasinski. Not because I owe it to them personally, but because neither is known for genre work, so if they’ve made an exception for this, it must be exceptional.

And actually, it is. First because of the silence. There are different kinds of quiet and we experience dozens of them during A Quiet Place. The pregnant silence, the expectant silence, the easy quiet, the calm quiet, the hair-raising, heart-beat elevating, sweat on the backs of your knees silences. And then there’s the daughter’s silence, true silence, the kind that envelops you, comforts you, terrifies you. This is the movie that should be up for Oscars in sound editing next year but probably won’t be.

Second, because of the acting. Emily Blunt is easily phenomenal. Mom characters tend to get short shrift in horror movies but in this case, Blunt gives us patience and strength, real suffering and heartache, an iron will and a tender heart. The kid actors are top-notch too – in fact you’ve already heard me rave about them, Millicent Simmonds in Wonderstruck, and Noah Jupe in Suburbicon. John Krasinski is the first to admit that he learned a lot working alongside these professionals and he fills the father’s shoes nicely.

But this movie is also remarkable for its themes that extend way beyond the genre. At its heart, it’s really about a family who is trying to prepare its children to fend for themselves in the big, bad world. Like any family. Only hopefully your children won’t be facing any literal face-eating monsters. But of course you’re afraid for them, afraid that they’ll encounter something you haven’t prepared them for, and that you won’t be there when they need you. As director, Krasinski makes us care for this family, while at the same time making it feel like it could be mine or yours.

 

Wonderstruck

Wonderstruck tells two parallel stories, set 50 years apart. In one, a little girl named Rose travels to New York City to track down her mother, a famous silent film star, circa 1927. New York City is no place for a kid traveling alone but Rose, who is deaf, is brave and smart. Meanwhile, in 1977, Ben is another runaway on the loose after his mother dies and an accident leaves him newly deaf. Determined to find the father he never knew, he too heads for New York City. And since you’ve surely seen a movie before, you can probably guess that at some point these stories will somehow intersect.

Millicent Simmonds, deaf in real life, had no prior acting experience before being 20Wonderstruck-web1-superJumbocast, but she wowed both director Todd Haynes and Julianne Moore with her audition. On set she communicated primarily through an American Sign Language interpreter, while Haynes sent many cast members on a walk through NYC wearing noise-cancelling headphones to get a sense of the city’s quiet side. Rose’s portions of the film are shot in black and white, and Simmonds has a terrific face for it – curious and expressive, her eyes lighting the way.

Oakes Fegley plays Ben, a kid who feels orphaned and is further isolated when he loses his hearing. Unlike Rose, his deafness feels more like an obstacle – he ┬áhasn’t yet learned to navigate the world without hearing. And neither have we, but Haynes occasionally immerses us is quiet, the sort of quiet that feels pregnant with possibility.

Todd Haynes is the king of period pieces, and Wonderstruck affords him the opportunity to hit the jackpot: double periods! Nobody could embrace it any better. And he certainly has a knack for delighting us visually, bringing art to life, and cities to life, and museums to life, and inner life to life. What he stumbles with are the required shifts in tone. We flip back and forth between the two children’s stories and Haynes has tried to make each story line look and feel distinct. But those shifts can feel abrupt. Haynes drenches us in visual poetry but there’s an emotional disconnect that kept me from being truly wonderstruck. The sets are great, the costumes are great, the score is really something, but the parts somehow add up to just an okay whole. It lacks in whimsy but there is still joy to be found in discovering something new.

 

 

***And since we’re all here and you’re every so kindly reading, can we just take a minute to consider this: first-run movies are rarely accessible to deaf people. They often have to attend special screenings, or use special equipment, and if those aren’t available, they’re waiting for a DVD. There’s an easy fix. Why not make movies more accessible by simply captioning them?