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Phoebe in Wonderland Rating:

This heartfelt, fantastical story of a troubled, imaginative girl (Elle Fanning, The Door in the Floor) devoted to Alice in Wonderland explores the agonies of growing up as an outsider and the complexities of parenting. Oscar nominee* Felicity Huffman (Transamerica, TV's Desperate Housewives) gives one of the most powerful performances of her career as Phoebe's guilt-ridden mother.

She and her perplexed husband (Bill Pullman, Independence Day) initially see Phoebe's unusual behavior as signs of creativity, but with the help of an unconventional drama teacher (Oscar nominee** Patricia Clarkson, Lars and the Real Girl), they soon realize that their daughter is in danger of falling "through the looking glass."

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Daniel Barnz's directorial debut, Phoebe in Wonderland, is an important film in regards to teaching children not to fear psychological challenges. Of course, this is also the key effort in about half of all children's films. But what sets Phoebe in Wonderland apart from other more saccharine examples is the accurate portrayal of protagonist Phoebe's onset of Tourette's syndrome, and the fantasy scenes that hedge her tragic reality against an Alice in Wonderland escapism. Phoebe in Wonderland is a family drama about Phoebe Lichten (Elle Fanning), who lives with two author-parents, Hillary (Felicity Huffman) and Peter (Bill Pullman), who encourage her imagination.

Phoebe yearns to participate in the school's Alice in Wonderland performance, headed by the mysteriously alluring drama teacher, Miss Dodger (Patricia Clarkson), who also champions Phoebe's strange digressions. The film traces Phoebe's imagination as it becomes increasingly obsessive, and the viewer is privy to both Phoebe's internalized interpretation of what is happening to her and her behaviors from an exterior perspective.

This is smart, and makes for some interesting scenes, such as when Phoebe sits in the principal's office being reprimanded, hearing both his comments and those from Wonderland, warning her about the future. Another layer of story enriches the symbolic significance of Wonderland, when one learns that Phoebe's mother is writing a novel inspired by Carroll's. From here, the mother-daughter evolves in complex ways, and the mother's defense of her child is an integral part of the narrative. Like Juno, Phoebe is a bright, witty girl whose eccentricities make the movie a charmer.

Though there is an unfortunately facile ending attached to Phoebe in Wonderland, it feels tacked on to a movie that provides wonderful insight into cultivating children's tolerance of atypical behaviors, which is much needed. -- Trinie Dalton

Product Details

Media Type Movie
Recommended Age 13 and up
Actors Felicity Huffman, Elle Fanning
Director Daniel Barnz
Running Time 96 minutes
Studio Image Entertainment
Release Date Jun 23, 2009
Language English