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'Next Stop Wonderland'

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 28, 1998

  Movie Critic

Next Stop Wonderland
Hope Davis is the star of "Next Stop Wonderland." (Miramax)

Brad Anderson
Hope Davis;
Alan Gelfant;
Victor Argo;
H. Jon Benjamin;
Cara Buono
Running Time:
1 hour, 37 minutes
Sexual themes
What lingers beyond the closing credits of "Next Stop Wonderland," a fine little confection about love and destiny by second-time director Brad Anderson ("The Darien Gap"), is the romantic counterpoint it weaves of melancholy and hope.

The haunting soundtrack – featuring "Desafinado," "Corcovado," "Triste" and other morsels of sophisticated samba and bossa nova-flavored jazz by Antonio Carlos Jobim and others – is a large part of what sets the film's bittersweet tone: what the Brazilians call saudade, or "sadness that is longing for happiness."

With its soft-headed subject matter about the search for that special someone, "Wonderland" is a spiritual cousin of last spring's date flick, "Sliding Doors," only minus that earlier film's plot gimmick about parallel universes. Here, the very real protagonist Erin Castleton (Hope Davis) is a sad-eyed phlebotomist who has just been dumped by her activist boyfriend (Phil Hoffman).

When Erin's well-meaning mother places a glowing personal ad for her daughter, Erin embarks on a series of disastrous blind dates with a string of losers. (Each of them, in a running gag, misquotes the Ralph Waldo Emerson line about a foolish consistency being "the hobgoblin of little minds," only they attribute the quote to Karl Marx, W.C. Fields and Cicero.)

Meanwhile, across town we are introduced to Alan Monteiro (Alan Gelfant), a plumber and aspiring marine biologist who is also single and – wouldn't you know it? – looking for love.

Shot with a shaky hand-held camera, "Wonderland" is a sentimental fairy tale with a gritty documentary feel. That very unglamorousness, however, plays off nicely against the movie's sweetly goofy optimism, including a charming subplot about the abduction of the New England Aquarium's mascot, Puff the Pufferfish. In fact, the story's urban setting of Boston becomes almost another character entirely, with Anderson's expectation-defying vision transforming the dull bricks and mortar of Beantown into a magical kingdom of romantic possibility.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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