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Wonderland

Rated [R], 105 minutes
Starring Shirley Henderson, Ian Hart, Gina McKee, John Simm and Molly Parker
Screenplay by Laurence Coriat
Directed by Michael Winterbottom

IN SHORT: For the arthouse

We're not supposed to compare with other films but we've got some wiggle room 'cuz the films I'm about to mention were all directed by the same director, Michael Winterbottom. His latest, Wonderland, as compared with the two others I've seen, Jude and Welcome to Sarajevo, is a virtual fireworks display of emotional optimism. True, this is a story of a miserable married couple and their miserable daughters (one single, one married, one divorced); it's a slice of life type film that takes place over three or so days, somewhere in South London.

The parental units are Eileen (Kika Markham) and Bill (Jack Shepherd). The spark has left their marriage. Eileen is driven to distraction by the nonstop barking of the dog next door and Bill hides from his life by tinkering under his car's hood. Daughter Nadia (Gina McKee) has a dead-end job in a cafe and an equally dead-end social life populated by blind dates found through a telephone personals service called the Lonely Hearts Club. Nadia will occasionally babysit nephew Jack, while sister Debbie (Shirley Henderson) is out getting what she can't. Debbie's ne'er do well ex, Dan (Ian Hart) is not exactly a model father. His shortcomings on that point will form the basis of most of the second act story. Last daughter is Mollie (Molly Parker) who, with husband Eddie (John Simm) is about to bring a new child into the world. Even this usually happy occurrence is tinged with a dark side, as Eddie flat out panics and flees the relationship. All these conflicts play out, and are somehow resolved, by the time the movie ends.

Slice of life films invariably depend on the strength of the actor's performances to make them worth watching. Or not. The perfs here, all by well-known and well-regarded actors in Britain, are fine. The major characters, despite my aural problems with the thick accents, sorted themselves out nicely. The problem for this viewer is that Winterbottom, and Laurence Coriat's script, staff the flick with a number of characters that don't seem to have anything whatsoever to do with the family life that takes center stage. Their ultimate purpose is saved for the last five minutes of the piece. By that time, the slow pace and deliberately small story have taken its toll on the average mindset.

Then again I've always fully admitted that my mindset doesn't work well with intimate, arthouse oriented stories. You know your tastes better than mine. Wonderland is the first Michael Winterbottom film that I've walked out of feeling pleased to have seen it. That's a fairly high compliment from this feeble brain.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Wonderland, he would have paid...

$4.00

pay per view rating, and about the place where the average arthouse flick rests on the scale. If you're an aficionado of the arthouse, you'll argue for a higher number (and you'd probably be right).

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.