Release Date: March 6
: Daniel Barnz
Cinematographer: Geoff Boyle
Starring: Felicity Huffman, Elle Fanning, Patricia Clarkson, Bill Pullman, Campbell Scott
Studio/Run Time: THiNKFilm, 96 mins.
Not many films focus on the realities of dealing
with special-needs children, so perhaps Phoebe
in Wonderland should be given some points for trying to say something
meaningful on the subject, even if it
quickly becomes bogged down with its own contrivances.The film centers on Phoebe (Elle Fanning),
who because of an obvious disorder is having difficulty at school and gradually
drifting into her own world.A lead role
in the student production of Alice in
Wonderland gives her an outlet and escape for her energies, while her
strange drama teacher’s idiosyncratic nature offers her emotional strength.But when she acts up again, the stage role is stripped
away from her in the typically ineffective remove-the-one-thing-giving-this-child-hope
form of punishment.
Meanwhile, struggling to cope with all of the changes going
on with their daughter are Phoebe’s parents.Phoebe’s story ends too formulaically, especially with its unnecessary
musical number and instant-fix diagnosis, but at least it stays away from
family melodrama.The parents, on the
other hand, are a self-centered mess that the film unintentionally blames for
all that’s wrong with the world.Their
story gradually takes up more and more of the screen time, with Phoebe’s half
just as ignored as the girl herself.
Daniel Barnz as a screenwriter seems oblivious and out of
synch with his story, but at least the picture is beautiful.For a first feature it’s absolutely lush, and
the hallucinations are lively and entertaining while the school’s compositions
turn a cheerful academy into the cold, imposing horror of Phoebe’s life.Really, it’s only the writing that gets away
from Barnz, where concepts like turning adult double-speak into Carollian word
games are clever on the page but awkward when actually spoken by characters,
eventually turning them into caricatures.
In the end, the film is more devoted to the concept, the
play between the various Alice stories and the disapproval of academic
parenting than it is with Phoebe and her problem.Visuals aside, what drags Phoebe in Wonderland along is Fanning’s
performance, but the rest of the film never rises up to the level of her simple
moments counting steps or explaining that she has to wash her hands a certain
number of times.