The idea that you can be most alone in a crowd is perpetuated by Wonderland, which follows a tumultuous long weekend in the lives of a London family whose grown children (three daughters and one son) have left the nest, but still haven’t quite learned how to fly.
Nadia (Gina McKee) is a waitress with a healthy streak of compassion who’s stuck in a cycle of bad dates with shallow men she meets via personals ads. Hairdresser Debbie (Shirley Henderson) parties with the frenzy of a teenager, despite having a son (Peter Marfleet) who’s old enough to question their life and an irresponsible, always-on-the-make ex-husband (Ian Hart).
Molly (Molly Parker) seems the most stable, with a nice flat, a reliable husband (John Simm) who sells kitchen cabinets and the dream of upward mobility, and a baby on the way. Meanwhile, their parents (Kika Markham and Jack Shepherd) are locked in an unwinnable war of recriminations for past mistakes. Each blames the other for the estrangement of their youngest child (Enzo Cilenti), who’s spending his birthday romping through hotel rooms with his girlfriend.
Screenwriter Laurence Coriat, born in France but a longtime London resident, has a fine eye for the telling detail and she retains enough of an outsider’s perspective to see beyond the obvious. The characters in Wonderland are the type of city dwellers that most people wouldn’t look twice at, yet Coriat eagerly explores the ways in which ordinary people build their own private hells.
Even though director Michael Winterbottom (Jude, Welcome to Sarajevo) puts a lot of energy into these intimate wide-screen images, and creates a palpable tension by contrasting edgy camerawork with Michael Nyman’s soothing musical score, his emotional detachment drains Wonderland of the passion it so desperately needs. The kind of insight Winterbottom displayed in the superb BBC series “Family” (written by novelist Roddy Doyle) is woefully missing here.
Winterbottom’s cool approach to the residents of Wonderland turns these individuals into stereotypes, just another set of restless strangers in an anonymous urban landscape defined by their struggle to just connect.
Showing exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (110 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.
Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].