Netflix update No. 3: “Next Stop Wonderland”

April 4, 2009

HOPE DAVIS

HOPE DAVIS

Last night we watched “Next Stop Wonderland,” a 1998 film about a young woman, played by Hope Davis, whose erratic, activist boyfriend, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, leaves her once again – for good, this time, he says. While she’s getting used to life alone, her mother (Holland Taylor), who has issues of her own, places a personals ad for her daughter without asking permission. In the background is a young man (Alan Gelfant) who works as a plumber for his  compulsive gambler of a father but volunteers his time at a Boston aquarium and is studying to become a marine biologist.

This movie is reminiscent of a 1983 TV flick, “Your Place or Mine,” that starred Bonnie Franklin and Robert Klein – who coincidentally plays a role in “Next Stop Wonderland.” In that movie as in this one the couple who are meant to be together don’t meet until the last few minutes.

“Next Stop Wonderland” is worth seeing. It is a careful study of character – and character flaws – and philosophical without being heavy-handed, amusing without being exploitative or patronizing. Brad Anderson’s quirky direction puts an element of the unexpected into every scene, and his use of Boston locations gives the whole film a rich visual context. Faces apparently are an important part of storytelling for Anderson, and I’m a sucker for that perspective. The casting – including the secondary parts – served the story well. It’s hard to look away from either Hope Davis or Alan Gelfant. All the performances are credible and witty.

It’s interesting that the posed promotional shot for this film has Davis sitting on top of a railroad car wearing a very short dress with a very low neckline. Her character in the movie is nothing at all like that. Apparently the ad department thought the potential audience was too stupid to be attracted to the movie on its own merits.

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