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Wallowing in 'Wonderland': British film is a dreary love story

Friday, October 27, 2000

By Ron Weiskind Post-Gazette Movie Editor

The British film "Wonderland," now at the Denis Theater, brings to mind a spate of movies released about two years ago that combined grandiose architecture with flimsy construction.


RATING: R, for sexuality and language

PLAYERS: Shirley Henderson, Gina McKee, Molly Parker

DIRECTOR: Michael Winterbottom

CRITIC'S CALL: 1 1/2 stars.


Those films, which included "Playing by Heart" and "200 Cigarettes," juggled the stories of a dozen seemingly random characters who turned out to be intimately connected in some way. The plots usually revolved around the search for love, but too many characters and too many coincidences tended to dilute the mix and try the audience's patience.

"Wonderland," which was made in 1999, comes out of the same mold.

The screenplay, by Laurence Coriat, does at least connect a few of the dots at the beginning. The main characters are three sisters: Molly (Molly Parker), who is married to Eddie (John Simm) and pregnant with their first child; Debbie (Shirley Henderson), a single mother with one son and a tendency to go looking for love in all the wrong places; and Nadia (Gina McKee), a waitress with Mickey Mouse pigtails who has enrolled in a dating service but keeps turning up frogs instead of princes.

The other characters include their parents, ineffectual Bill (Jack Shepherd) and shrewish Eileen (Kika Markham); Dan (Ian Hart), Debbie's irresponsible ex; Franklyn (David Fahm), who is Bill and Eileen's black neighbor; and a couple making out in a train who go at it even hotter in a hotel.

Director Michael Winterbottom ("Welcome to Sarajevo," "Butterfly Kiss") uses grainy film and hand-held cameras to give it a documentary look. Some of his montages featuring anonymous lost souls, a category that also includes most of the main characters, prove affecting. Occasionally, he takes one of his forlorn people on a stroll through the city at night and speeds up the action, as if they were fast-forwarding on a tape.

The audience may wish they could fast-forward through the rest of the movie, which takes a slice from too many lives to adequately develop the characters.

His theme appears to be the inability to communicate despite an urban setting in which you can't help but run into people. Characters shout to make themselves heard in conversation in a loud bar. Strangers make assignations by telephone through a dating service. Couples talk past each other or stop trying at all.

Indeed, many of these folks seem to have given up in some way. But their lives have become so dreary that we're inclined to do the same, neutralizing the somewhat hopeful ending. Mostly, we may be glad simply that it's over.

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