Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Phoebe In Wonderland

I am constantly amazed how films with a fantasy element seem the most in tune to reality and speak most clearly an element of truth. In Phoebe in Wonderland, Felicity Huffman and Bill Pullman play their roles with an air of honesty, but it is Elle Fanning, as Phoebe, and Patricia Clarkson, as drama teacher Miss Dodger, who really helps Phoebe come into her own, that take the cake.

Phoebe in Wonderland is a film about a family of four --father and mother (both academics struggling to balance work and family life) and two daughters: Olivia and Phoebe. Olivia strives for her parents' attention and approval. A precocious girl of about eight, she writes poetry, dresses up as Karl Marx for Halloween and struggles to make excuses for her older sister: Phoebe.

At first we see Phoebe as simply a bright, introverted nine-year-old with a vivid imagination, but as the movie progresses our view of Phoebe changes. She is socially awkward, withdrawn, and obsessed with ritual. When she becomes distressed she withdraws into "Wonderland": the parallel world where she goes to try to find an explanation of what's happening in her world and what she is supposed to do.

In the end, we find out the Phoebe suffers from Tourettes syndrome and can't control her outbursts or compulsive action. It is a relieving moment to see Phoebe explain to her classmates, her tormentors, why she is the way she is and to see her finally come into her own as Alice in the school play. Despite its happy ending, Phoebe In Wonderland carries similar elements to Pan's Labyrinth. The main characters both struggle to reconcile their chaotic realities by retreating into fantasy, sometimes terrifying, but all times beautiful.

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