Phoebe in Wonderland
By Duane Byrge
PARK CITY, Utah (Hollywood Reporter) - “Phoebe in Wonderland” reverberates with the frustration of a young girl who seeks refuge in a fantasy world when her parents and school fail her. A jarring and sweet depiction of disability, “Phoebe” should win hearts on the art house circuit and appeal to female and family audiences on cable.
Angelic and talented Phoebe (Elle Fanning) has blessings and challenges: She is obsessively compulsive and blurts out inappropriate things. Her protective mother won’t accept professional advice -- obsessive control disorder, Tourette‘s. Girls will be girls, she rationalizes. Yes, Phoebe’s behavior confounds teachers and tears apart her family.
Writer-director Daniel Barnz examines the disorienting and dispiriting world that kids often face: officious teachers, cruel classmates, confused adults. The mesmerizing performance of Fanning as the gifted and troubled young Phoebe sparks the picture. Patricia Clarkson as Phoebe’s empathetic and inspiring drama teacher evinces the sympathetic fiber that only a person who also has suffered for being different can convey.
As the beleaguered and well-intentioned mother, Felicity Huffman crystallizes the frustrations and self-doubt of a loving mother, while Bill Pullman captures a father’s feeling of helplessness.
Under Barnz’s guiding directorial hand, technical contributions are masterful. Christophe Beck’s score is aptly whimsical and fearsome, while Bobby Bukowski’s smart visual compositions are similarly succinct.
Hillary Lichten: Felicity Huffman
Miss Dodger: Patricia Clarkson
Phoebe Lichten: Elle Fanning
Peter Lichten: Bill Pullman
Principal Davis: Campbell Scott
Director-screenwriter: Daniel Barnz; Producers: Lynette Howell, Ben Barnz; Executive producers: Doug Dey, Chris Finazzo; Director of photography: Bobby Bukowski; Production designer: Therese DePrez; Editor: Robert Hoffman; Music: Christophe Beck.