Phoebe in WonderlandMovies Reviews Elle Fanning
Release Date: March 6
Director/Writer: 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.