Monday, March 22, 2010

Phoebe in Wonderland - Now that's Wonderland

"The books are a kind of Rorschach test, a screen onto which people project their own ideas"
-Jenny Wolf, author of The Mystery of Lewis Carroll-
It's no secret that I love the Alice books by Lewis Carrol - all two of them - and I agree with Jenny Wolf's assertion. These books are so loved because it's different for every reader. It's why there are so many movies, cartoons, series and stage versions (soon my own) of these books. Everyone has their favorite version  or versions. In other words: Your interpretation says more about who you are rather than what the books are.
For that fact alone is probably why I enjoyed Phoebe in Wonderland as much as I did. Phoebe - played by Elle Fanning (Dakota's little sister) - uses Wonderland as a device to explain what she doesn't understand in the world she inhabits. Then she really gets to escape to Wonderland when she gets cast as the lead in her school's production of Alice in Wonderland along with her male friend Jamie (Ian Coletti) who gets cast as The Queen of Hearts.
What really drives this story home though is not Phoebe's tourettes or even when Jamie is called a fag (the movie was a GLAAD award nominee), but in the way that adults just don't understand what it's like to be a child.

Patricia Clarkson (goddess) plays the drama teacher Miss Dodger (get it?) who seems to be the only one in the faculty that really knows how to nurture these children. The best scenes in the movie are the audition and rehearsal scenes for school play Alice in Wonderland, and I'm not just saying that because I can "borrow" their stage ideas. Miss Dodger takes these kids seriously and expects them to take her seriously and that's what children really need. Someone not condescending and someone who commands authority. She owns every scene she is in. The movie also has Bill Pullman and Felicity Huffman as Phoebe's parents. Felicity Huffman does what she does best, play the concerned mother, and Bill Pullman is pretty much Bill Pullman. Elle Fanning as Phoebe was phenomenal. People are going to call her a younger version of Dakota Fanning - and she is for obvious reasons - but she also has an acting style that is purely her own. She also gets to show off her singing voice in one of the cutest recreations of Looking Glass World's infamous "Welcome Queen Alice" scene.
Directed by Daniel Barnz - who's directing the upcoming Beastly, a modern take on Beauty and the Beast with Mary Kate Olsen and Neil Patrick Harris among other famous faces - Phoebe in Wonderland is what it is: It's a movie about a little girl dealing with tourettes. The added layer of Wonderland is just a device and it never takes over the movie completely. It's complementary as opposed to distracting and really does help us to almost fully understand what's going on in this little girl's head as she deals with the frustration and confusion of her world. A world that neither she or the people around her can fully understand.
I enjoyed this movie fully and plan to watch it again and again. It's beautifully filmed and very well acted, especially Elle Fanning and Patricia Clarkson. It's almost sad that it's theatrical release was limited. So go get it on DVD or Blu Ray or The Queen will have your head.


  1. Sounds like a great film! And thanks for mentioning my book!

  2. No problem. I've been meaning to purchase your book. Thanks for leaving a comment.


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