Next Stop Wonderland (1998)


(director/writer/editor: Brad Anderson; screenwriter: Lyn Vaus; cinematographer: Uta Briesewitz; cast: Hope Davis (Erin Castleton), Alan Gelfant (Alan Monteiro), Hollan Taylor (Piper Castleton), Robert Klein (Arty Lesser), Cara Buono (Julie), Jose Zuniga (Andre De Silva), Phil Hoffman (Sean), Victor Argo (loanshark); Runtime: 96; Miramax Films; 1998)

Wonderland is a rather sugary romance film that is as subtle as a ton of Domino sugar cubes falling on top of you.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Wonderlandis a sugary romance film that is as subtle as a ton of Domino sugar cubes falling on top of your head. You can see its plot developing from a mile away. Its benign story is about a single 29-year-old girl looking for a soulmate in Boston, as that city is depicted as a mini-wonderland for singles. This is a star vehicle film, and the star is Erin (Hope Davis). This is a dating film about singles who for reasons of fate or whatnot, have not had a successful match and are now putting most of their energy into fulfilling their careers. This type of film has been done often in contemporary films, so there’s nothing new. The fictionalized documentary Unmade Beds had this same theme but did it more provocatively.

Hope’s pushy mother (Hollan) visits her in Boston and sees her daughter’s live-in relationship with a radical protester (Hoffman) breakup and decides to put a personal ad in the newspaper for her Harvard medical school drop-out daughter, who works as a nurse. This is done without her knowledge.

It is cornball sitcom stuff; but, at least, it is handled as best it could be by the actors and director.

It is easy to like Erin; she is bright, caring, and attractively blonde. It is equally easy to care for the soulmate she keeps missing contact with, the financially strapped, ruggedly handsome, intelligent 35-year-old Alan (Alan). He no longer wants to work with his father as a plumber but is doing volunteer work at the aquarium and attending college to be a marine biologist. Of course, he comes across as so good (though, he does kill some fish in the aquarium), that it is hard to believe he’s for real. He seems like some cardboard Prince Charming put into the story to give it an ideal romance to shoot for. The contrived story revolves around their near misses in meeting each other in such spots as: the subway, at a restaurant, or on the phone.

Alan’s brother answers Erin’s ad with a few of his pals, as they each try to respond to her ad in a phony way, making a bet that the first who gets to tongue kiss her, that the others witness, will win the bet. This subplot was as obnoxious to see take place as it is to hear told.

That we have to see Erin go through several dates to prove the point of how egotistical these guys are, each one more annoying than the other — culminating in the most obnoxious one of all, the Brazilian lover (Jose), being the one she likes best. He is about as charming as a snake-oil salesman and she is nearly about to fly away with him for a holiday in Brazil, which was not only incredulous but contrary to the rich presentation of her character that was the heart of the story.

Anyway, as expected, ‘all’s well that ends well’ for this watchable fluff, that comes over on the screen better than it seems possible. The dialogue was actually not bad, it had people talking like they really talk. Those dating Erin or trying to flirt with her seemed to be uttering authentic things they would actually say to her in their situation.

By the way, Wonderland refers to the stop on the Boston metro where there is greyhound racing.