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Phoebe in Wonderland Full of OCD

Published March 5, 2009 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Capitol Films
Phoebe in Wonderland is not the sort of movie I would see if I weren't interviewing Felicity Huffman. In my waning years I feel despondent that there are still so many classics I've missed, so I wouldn't chance 90 free minutes on an indie wild card. But I needed to interview half of Filliam H. Muffman so here I am.

Movie Review: Phoebe in Wonderland


My instincts would not have been false though. Abstract portrayals of kids with OCD and Tourette's do not, it turns out, make great entertainment.

The film begins promisingly enough with young Phoebe (Elle Fanning) questioning the authority that forces kids to listen to prescribed information before thinking on their own. It loses credibility, however, when it suggests signing up for the school play is momentous, simply by playing ballet music with the action.

The children fluctuate drastically between genius and precocious. There's a pretentious drama teacher (Patricia Clarkson) speaking in Lewis Carroll limericks. Now I'll buy genius kids articulating metaphors but I'm not going to sit here and listen to drama teachers try to inspire them!

Phoebe's parents (Huffman and Bill Pullman) resent each other because he works too much and she really wants to be finishing her book on Alice in Wonderland but has her hands full with the kids. They're so smart they can't even speak directly. Nothing short of melodrama could express all that's contained in their intellects. Bravo, parents.

Phoebe in Wonderland Poster Phoebe in Wonderland


There's a B story about one of Phoebe's friends getting gay bashed. All this plus surreal fantasies of Alice in Wonderland to try to convince you that this is not a TV movie of the week. And we're all ACTING!

Ultimately it's the battle between individuality and actual diagnosed problems. Are the teachers afraid of Phoebe's neuroses because they challenge them? Or does she just need some Ritalin? That's valid. It's just not good. <P> Good is What's Eating Gilbert Grape? where they're just coping with a mental disorder as a part of life. Good is The Notebook where Alzheimer's profoundly affects an epic story. It's certainly not A Beautiful Mind jacking up a disease of the week with a few pretty pictures.

Phoebe in Wonderland certainly chastises the school system for dispelling misinformation and hiring know-it-all armchair psychiatrists. It's just miserable to plod through.

Productive individuality is better than middling authority but not in this sanctimonious way. Best of all, it gets to have it both ways in the end. You can diagnose your condition and buck authority too. Awww.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Capitol Films
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