Next Stop, Wonderland
Next Stop, Wonderland

USA, 1998. Rated R. 104 minutes.

Cast: Hope Davis, Alan Gelfant, Victor Argo, Cara Buono, Holland Taylor, Jose Zuniga, Jon Benjamin, Robert Klein, Callie Thorne, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Writers: Brad Anderson & Lyn Vaus
Music: Claudio Ragazzi
Cinematographer: Uta Briesewitz
Producer: Mitchell Robbins
Director: Brad Anderson


Grade: C+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

Take a little bit of Sleepless in Seattle, a little bit of Sliding Doors, slash the production budget, and you get Next Stop, Wonderland. Like Sleepless in Seattle, Wonderland is one of those two-strangers-who-are-fated-to-meet romantic comedies. Like Sliding Doors, Wonderland develops two separate, but parallel plots. The first storyline involves Erin (Hope Davis), a registered nurse who is dumped by her Hope Davis in Next Stop, Wonderlandpolitically active boyfriend (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and must adjust to living alone. The second storyline involves Alan (Alan Gelfant), a former plumber who works at the aquarium and goes to school at night. Erin and Alan repeatedly come close to meeting--they even speak on the telephone--but they never seem to connect.

The trouble with Next Stop, Wonderland is that the Alan storyline is a loser. Alan has borrowed a lot of money to go to school and is having trouble paying it back, so now his shady creditors are using the debt to pressure him into whacking the aquarium's mascot, a blowfish. Trust me, it's not as funny--or as comprehensible--as it sounds. Making matters worse, Alan Gelfant is not a particularly charismatic actor. As a prospective romantic partner, the main thing he appears to have going for him is that he's not a complete jerk, which admittedly sets him apart from the other male characters in the movie.

Fortunately, the Erin storyline is much better, thanks to some snappy dialogue and Hope Davis. Unlike Gelfant, she is quite compelling, and she possesses a remarkable ability to go from mousy and plain to radiantly beautiful in the blink of an eye--an ability used in exaggerated fashion and to great effect in The Imposters. After Erin's breakup with her boyfriend, Erin's overbearing mother (a witty Holland Taylor) places a personal ad on Erin's behalf in the newspaper. The ad describes the melancholy and thoughtful Erin as "frisky." Erin receives 64 responses, and against her better judgement, she goes out on several dates, including one with Alan's misogynistic younger brother.

As long as Hope Davis is on the screen, Next Stop, Wonderland is funny and entertaining, but due to the structure of the narrative, she's only on the screen a little more than half the time. This means that only a little more than half of Next Stop, Wonderland is watchable, but Hope Davis makes sitting through the whole movie worthwhile. Too bad writer/director Brad Anderson was so enamored of the parallel-story device that he lost sight of the fact that, in order for it to work, both stories need to be good.

Review © March 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 1998 Miramax. All Rights Reserved.

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