In a conversation with her mother, 9-year old Phoebe Lichten asks, â€œHave you ever felt like you were running very fast, just to stay in the same place?â€Â This intuitive question captures the tone of the 2008 Sundance film selection, Phoebe in Wonderland, a tale that provides an elegant balance of youthful imagination among dark, sophisticated issues.
Phoebe (Elle Fanning) is a troubled but intelligent 9-year old girl, struggling with obsessive-compulsive and Tourette Syndrome tendencies that only subside within her own magical wonderland.Â Phoebeâ€™s dream comes true when Miss Dodger (Patricia Clarkson), a unique teacher who pushes children to think for themselves and learn from each other, casts her as Alice in the school play.
A bit pretentious at times, Miss Dodgerâ€™s maternal relationship with Phoebe is exactly what the child needs, which brings conflict and jealousy to Phoebeâ€™s relationship with her own mother, Hillary (Felicity Huffman).Â As Phoebeâ€™s condition worsens, Hillary must also tend to her youngest daughter, Olivia, who longs for attention it seems only Phoebe receives.Â The plot also touches on gender roles, when Phoebe’s male classmate, Jamie, auditions for and earns a spot as the Red Queen, only to be fiercely ridiculed by his peers.
Writer and director Daniel Barnz truly brings new life, and complicated but believable issues, to an exhausted fairy tale. But what really makes this flick worth watching are three amazing performances from the filmâ€™s leading ladies.Â A convincingly strained mother, Huffmanâ€™s performance is one of her best (less Desperate Housewives, more Transamerica), and Clarkson plays the perfect forward-thinking, rebellious teacher; calm, enchanting, and inspiring. But Elle Fanning (yes, Dakotaâ€™s younger sister) certainly steals the show as she flawlessly brings Phoebe and all of her quirks to life.Â We are sure to see more of this adorable, talented young actress.
Phoebe in Wonderland is an emotionally charged, delightful film to which both adults and children can relate.