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Next Stop, Wonderland

Rated R, 107 min. Directed by Brad Anderson. Starring Hope Davis, Alan Gelfant, Victor Argo, Jon Benjamin, Cara Buono, Phil Hoffman, Roger Rees, Holland Taylor, Callie Thorne, Jose Zuniga, Robert Klein.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 28, 1998

When Harvey Weinstein of Miramax distribution fame bought Brad Anderson's new, low-budget romantic comedy Next Stop, Wonderland for the overinflated sum of $6 million, he was quoted as saying that the company wasn't just buying a movie, it was “going into the Brad Anderson business.” Well, no one's ever called Mr. Weinstein stupid. Next Stop, Wonderland may well be the most charming film of its type since Sleepless in Seattle. The story, about two would-be lovers who would be so right together if only they could meet instead of crossing paths anonymously, is gracefully told and acted. The premise works despite its inbred hokiness due to Anderson's sure direction and the lovely central performances of Hope Davis and Alan Gelfant. We've all seen enough of these meet-cute modern romances to last a few lifetimes, so when one of them sticks with you longer than an afternoon quickie, you can tell that it's already a few notches above the standard romantic fare. As the film opens, Davis' Erin is being dumped by her extremely PC boyfriend (Hoffman) so that he can go off and save some Indian sacred ground. Erin, a night-shift medical worker, is left to deal with her sense of being alone without being lonely. Her interfering mother places a personal ad for Erin, describing her as being, among other inaccurate things, “frisky.” The film's funniest sequence revolves around her series of meetings with the ad's respondents. For his part, Gelfant's Alan is also shown going about his daily routine as a volunteer at the aquarium and as an older-than-average student who is trying to make a break from their family trade of plumbing. Rich in Boston landmarks, Next Stop, Wonderland is also steeped in Brazilian bossa nova music, an unexpected but thematically appropriate choice. Davis, who starred in The Daytrippers, is an unforgettable actress. Her ability to convey the character's intelligence and detachment are critical to this movie's success. But the supporting performances are marvelous as well, from the earnest foolishness of Hoffman to the amusing hauteur of Taylor, the quiet stolidness of Gelfant to the blustery pomposity of Klein. Anderson shows the skill of an expert games player as he moves his characters over the Boston landscape with the sinewy skill of a choreographer. His first film, Darien Gap, explored the intersecting lives of a bunch of twentysomethings, and though Anderson's follow-up Wonderland is more of a fine-tuned affair, you still get the sense that the director's romantic comedies are a lifelong work in progress. There may be no ignoring the “Brad Anderson business” a few more years down the line.
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