Wonderland

SHADOWS MUST SEE MUST-SEE


Three sisters: Nadia, Debbie and Molly (McKee, Henderson and Parker) are all looking for love in London.
dir Michael Winterbottom scr Laurence Coriat
with Gina McKee, Molly Parker, Shirley Henderson, Stuart Townsend, Ian Hart, John Simm, Enzo Cilenti, Jack Shepherd, Kika Markham, Sarah-Jane Potts, David Fahm, Peter Marfleet
Universal-BBC 99/UK 4 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
With a clever screenplay, a talented cast and an unusual visual style, British director Michael Winterbottom delivers his most assured film to date with Wonderland, a kind of London Short Cuts shot completely on location in an almost fly-on-the-wall style. It examines family relationships in a fresh and enlightening way ... mostly because this family is never seen together.

The film follows its characters through one Bonfire Night weekend. Nadia (McKee) is desperately searching for Mr Right, but finding the personal ads less than satisfactory until she meets Tim (Townsend), who shows some promise. Her older sister Debbie (Henderson) is a single mother whose 11-year-old son (Marfleet) is bored and looking forward to a weekend with his energetic dad (Hart). Younger sister Molly (Parker) is heavily pregnant and about to get a surprise from her nervous partner (Simms). Meanwhile, their parents live increasingly strained lives; Mum (Markham) is angry with the world, while Dad (Shepherd) is preoccupied with thoughts of their youngest, Darren (Cilenti), who has dropped out of touch and is celebrating his birthday with his girlfriend (Potts).

The film cleverly keeps these characters at arm's length, occasionally crossing paths (or nearly missing each other) and clearly showing the strong ties that bind families together whether we like it or not. Shot with hand-held cameras, gritty film stock, ambient sound and no extras (just real people everywhere!), the film also captures London life with an astonishing accuracy and realism, from lively Soho cafes to aimless, lonely strolls down crowded streets. The cast is superb, with McKee (Notting Hill, Croupier) delivering yet another remarkable performance full of nuance, humour and real feeling. In addition, the script carefully avoids cliches, keeping its feet on the ground and letting the provocative issues rise naturally to the surface with an authentic energy that almost leaves you buzzing.

[15--adult themes and situations, language, nudity] 21.Jul.99
UK release 14.Jan.00; US release 21.Jul.00

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READER REVIEWS

"If you're ever thinking of moving to London then don't go to see this film. It would utterly depress you with the claustrophobic, relentless activity and dark rainy streets cast in pools of orange streetlights. The reality of Wonderland will shatter any fantasies you might have for London life. Despite the name, the film bears absolutely no allusions to the Lewis Carroll story. There are, however, several reasons to watch this film: If you've ever travelled home, alone and lonely on a bus. If your family is a loose arrangement of mediocre individuals that you keep at arms length. If everything that could go wrong in a day did go wrong. Then you'll be able to empathize totally. The lighting, film stock and reality locations may jar with your movie watching aesthetics, but it'll certainly jar you in the right way. The subtle and candid acting also pushes you to sympathize with characters in a world where you can say, 'Hey, I've been there', physically and emotionally. The film never promises a happy ending but you are left with a little hope that the people are stronger than the jungle." --SPJ, UK.

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1999 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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