Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wonderland (1999 film)

Originally Written and Posted at on 5/27/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Directed by Michael Winterbottom and written by Laurence Coriat, Wonderland is an ensemble-based feature about three sisters and their parents preparing for Guy Fawkes Day while dealing with their own individual lives. The film reveals the dysfunctions and loneliness in family life as sisters often coming together to talk about real-life problems. With an all-star cast that includes Gina McKee, Molly Parker, Shirley Henderson, Ian Hart, and Stuart Townshend. Wonderland is a powerful, poignant family drama from Michael Winterbottom.

It's another typical Thursday night for Nadia (Gina McKee) as she looks for love at a party. Her older sister Molly (Molly Parker) is late in her pregnancy as she talks to her older sister Debbie (Shirley Henderson) who is dealing with life as a singler mother to her 11-year old son Jack (Peter Marfleet). While Nadia would often babysit Jack for Debbie who is also trying to find love after divorcing Dan (Ian Hart), Nadia's love-life gets a boost when she meets a photographer named Tim (Stuart Townshend). Outside of London, the youngest brother of the sisters in Darren (Enzo Cilenti) is taking a trip with his girlfriend Melanie (Sarah-Jane Potts) as he's been estranged from his family for years. Their parents in Eddie (John Simm) and Eileen (Kika Markham) are going through issues over Eileen's frustrations towards a barking dog next door.

A young shy man named Franklyn (David Fahm), whom Nadia sort of knows, is trying to live alone while Molly's husband Eddie (John Simm) is dealing with the upcoming birth of his first child as he finds himself unhappy with his job. It's Saturday where Dan takes Jack for the weekend while Debbie is at work where things don't go well due to Dan's lack of attentiveness towards Jack. Molly learns that Eddie has quit his job as he wanders around London as she becomes very emotional over what is going on. Notably as Nadia's date with Tim doesn't go well while her parents' marriage is falling apart after Bill decides to spend a day with Eileen's friend Donna. With Eddie still gone, Nadia and Debbie try to comfort Molly while Nadia's bad date with Tim has her thinking about an encounter with Dan. Jack is suddenly missing where the family comes together despite all of the turmoil that is happening.

While family life isn't always easy and at times, very lonely. Director Michael Winterbottom chooses to convey realism in a documentary-like fashion in his approach to the film. The theme of the film is indeed loneliness and the urge to connect with people. A family as unique as the ones in this film are portrayed with sympathy and complexity. They don't make the right choices sometimes and they let things get in the way.

Yet, Winterbottom lets the audience to relate to the characters and get to know them in the film's first act. The structure of the screenplay is set on a weekend where the Thursday-Friday segment reveals on who these people are and how they're dealing with everyday stuff. The second act reveals more of those troubles and alienation and this is where the story really begins. By the third act, we see everyone be more human as well as secrets into why this family who aren't often together trying to seek some form of happiness.

It's Winterbottom's direction that really brings life to the film. He observes every moment captured on film. Whether it's Franklyn wanting to get the attention of Nadia, Nadia seeking love, or Eddie struggling with the arrival of a child and a huge responsibility that comes with it.

It's in that direction, that is almost similar to the improvisation styles of both Britain's Mike Leigh and the late American director Robert Altman, where the audience get to see these characters and how they're connected in some way. Even the shots of London reminds the audience of where they are and how vast this city is where people try to find something and as big as it is, it's also easy to feel very lonely there. Winterbottom surpasses the expectations of what is needed in a family drama or an ensemble drama. He chooses to capture a moment, even when audiences know it's going to be happy or sad.

Helping Winterbottom in his documentary-like vision is cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. Using 16mm film and with low light, the film has a grainy yet homemade feel that adds not just a sense of realism but also style as if the audience themselves are immersed in the moments. Bobbitt's photography is exquisite in its authenticity that includes for the fact that all the camera work is hand-held. Production designer Mark Tildesley helps create the look of working-class London with its array of appliances and such along with the pictures and posters that surround Franklyn's room. Costume designer Natalie Ward also adds to the look of the working-class by not choosing anything flashy or expensive but rather the clothes that everyday people wear.

Editor Trevor Waite brings a lot of style to the film's editing with some wonderful speed sequences to convey the energy and loneliness of the characters while slowing things down at times. With uses of jump-cuts and perspective cuts, the editing is stylized yet works to convey the drama and observation of Winterbottom's direction. Sound editors Louis Bertini and Ian Wilson help capture the feel of London with natural sounds and a feel from the fireworks and the noises that the audience can feel right at home.

The film's soundtrack features cuts by acts like Pulp, Massive Attack, James, Faithless, the Jam, Ali, Alisha's Attic, and Dusty Springfield. The songs in the film are often played in the background on a radio or something just to give it a feel of realism or as someone's personal soundtrack. A lot of the music is performed by composer Michael Nyman. Nyman's score is really a highlight of the film. Nyman adds a somber yet delicate touch to some of the film's piano cuts to convey the loneliness and struggles of everyday life. Then there's his orchestral work with is filled with huge arrangements and power that isn't manipulative or overdone. It's very real and also emotional to convey where the characters are at the point of the story. If there's anyone other than Winterbottom that should be commended for his work, it's Michael Nyman.

Then there's the film's wonderful ensemble cast features memorable small performances from Sarah-Jane Potts as Darren's girlfriend Melanie, Ellen Thomas as Franklyn's frustrated but caring mother Donna, and Ian Hart as Jack's irresponsible, pub-going father Dan. Peter Marfleet is great as the neglected Jack who is forced to fend for himself when his own father isn't doing a lot while having to grow up quickly that his parents aren't always there despite the fact that they along with his immediate family do care for him.

Enzo Cilenti is also good as Darren, the son who is estranged from the family as he spends the weekend with his girlfriend though is desperate to reconnect with the family he left. Stuart Townshend is also in fine form as a flirtatious photographer who seems to be the right guy for Nadia but is also very shady in his own intentions. David Fahm is excellent as the shy, lonely Franklyn who often hides in his own room while often seeing Nadia from afar as he tries to find the courage to speak to her.

Kika Markham is excellent as Eileen, a frustrated, agitated woman who seems to find fault in a lot of things while dealing with a barking dog next door. Jack Shepherd is also excellent as Bill, who seems to be overwhelmed in his rocky marriage as well as being the only man in the house. Shepherd's performance is amazing for how he tries to deal with all the turmoil as well as his wife's own cruelty. John Simm is great as Eddie who is trying to deal with the new changes in his life while wandering London looking for some answers about his upcoming new role as a father.

Molly Parker is amazing as the pregnant Molly who is anxious awaiting for her new child but when she learns Eddie quits his job and disappears, Parker's performance is amazing in reveal her sadness and anger. Shirley Henderson is also great as the eldest yet irresponsible Debbie who is more interested in sleeping with other man than taking care of her own son. When Jack gets lost, Henderson reveals the depth of her performance as she realizes her own faults and such. Gina McKee is also great in her role as the youngest sister Nadia who seeks companionship with men only to find disappointments and heartbreak while dealing with her own role as a sister, aunt, and daughter.

Wonderland is a powerful yet very complex family-ensemble drama from Michael Winterbottom. The film is among one of Winterbottom's finest films as well as a truly intricate and compelling portrait of a dysfunctional family told with many layers by screenwriter Laurence Coriat. Featuring a truly outstanding ensemble cast, it is truly one of the great films of the 1990s as Wonderland is an engrossing yet hypnotic film from Michael Winterbottom.

Michael Winterbottom Films: (Rosie the Great) - (Forget About Me) - (Under the Sun) - (Love Lies Bleeding) - (Family (1993 TV film)) - (Butterfly Kiss) - (Go Now) - (Jude) - Welcome to Sarajevo - I Want You - (With or Without You (1998 film)) - The Claim - 24 Hour Party People - In This World - Code 46 - 9 Songs - Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story - The Road to Guantanamo - A Mighty Heart - Genova - The Shock Doctrine (2009 film) - The Killer Inside Me - The Trip (2010 film) - (Trishna) - (Everyday) - The Look of Love - (The Trip to Italy) - (The Face of An Angel)

© thevoid99 2012

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