Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Phoebe in Wonderland

What a cast! Felicity Huffman, Patricia Clarkson for starters. Bill Pullman - ever wonder where he went after Independence Day and Twister? And young Elle Fanning, about which we've heard so much. But the cast doesn't assure success, and Phoebe in Wonderland is a lot of angst in a balloon that can't hold it.

Phoebe (Elle Fanning) is a 9-year-old girl who can't seem to follow the rules. We're not sure if it's willful or not, simply because she's so smart and full of imagination. Suddenly, something lifts her out of her anxiety-ridden young life and the traps she finds herself in at home with her writing mother (Felicity Huffman) and at school with kids who pick on her: Drama teacher Miss Dodger (Patricia Clarkson) is looking for kids to fill the roles in her play, 'Alice in Wonderland.' And Phoebe has her heart set on getting Alice.

I'm sorry to say that I just got tired of watching Phoebe mired in her patterns, literally and figuratively, as well as Huffman carry on about her older daughter: It was almost as if Phoebe was the key to saving her. And father (Bill Pullman) was unable to help in the family situation or cure his wife's insecurities about being a professional writer and/or a suburban mother.

Clarkson, on the extreme other end, is a pleasure to watch, and brings something new to what would at first look like a one-dimensional character, the drama teacher. She's wildly exciting, you're not quite sure what she's thinking or what she requires of her students -- and all those students who are applying for the roles they covet don't know what to make of her. Neither does the principal of the school. But Phoebe sees everything she needs to connect and gain confidence. Still, Clarkson's tour-de-force isn't enough to save us from inanity and insanity in the family and school drama of Phoebe in Wonderland.

The drama doesn't lead us to the psychological reasons for this behavior the screenwriter/director wants us to conclude from the action. I found the screenplay, and the acting out of it, frustrating and inept.

Thumb's down.


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