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Saturday, Dec. 18, 1999
'NEXT STOP, WONDERLAND'
Have I got the girl for you
By KAORI SHOJI
I picture myself at 60, with a 32-year-old son who sits around the apartment on weekends, dateless. He's not bad looking, just shy. As his mama, I know his worth. Once a week, I'll call him up to see if a new girl has turned up on the horizon: "Honey, listen to your mother. Don't go after some dummy in a Versace. What you need is someone smart, who reads things besides the Cosmo horoscope, who's beautiful but not too much. I'm talking about a real woman." And then he'll say "Aw, ma, for chrissakes!" and hang up.
Chuckle, chuckle. That's my boy, always getting embarrassed.
This wish cropped up again after viewing "Next Stop, Wonderland," in which appears the aforementioned dream woman, the kind of woman whom moms and aunts will fall over themselves to introduce to their menfolk, the kind of woman whom a female colleague would sincerely describe as "someone with character." Playing her is Hope Davis, who has always been one jump short of Hollywood big time (she's played girlfriends and obscure wives) but alights on this particular vehicle like a visiting goddess.
Davis' role is a nurse called Erin, whose attraction is subtlety. Superlatives are out of place with her -- Erin is professional but not overly so, smart but not razor sharp, sexy but not obviously. She's also a cynic but never snide about it. In short, she's just too fine and complex for her live-in boyfriend, a cardboard cutout of a political activist (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who hands her a video of himself giving all the reasons why he's dumping her, before officially dumping her. After he leaves, Erin mopes around her Boston apartment, reading Wordsworth. She's sad, but not too much.
Now my 32-year-old son may ask what makes her so great; she sounds pretty depressive to him. I will snap back that when a woman gets to my age, she knows. Men are always blinded by the likes of Jennifer Anniston; they think glamour is everything. But let me tell you something about glamour. Glamour . . . disappears. It's like one of the lines from this movie: "Happiness ends one day, but there is no end to sadness." Great, huh?
Actually, it's also from the bossa nova classic "Corcovado," which is played strategically throughout. This is a picture defined by bossa nova -- in many a scene, the characters play it, sing it, quote the words and ponder their meaning. "Wonderland" makes you realize how a lot of this music is about feeling melancholic, lonely, tranquil. Just like Erin, content in her state of solitude and sadness. Believe me son, the merits of such a quality don't light up like a neon sign but outshine glamour by several hundred miles.
Not surprisingly, it takes a special kind of guy (Alan Gelsant) to appreciate her, and the movie spends 92 out of its 97 minutes trying to track him down. In the meantime, Erin goes through one bad date after another, courtesy of a personals ad that her mother put in, which attracts 65 callers wanting to meet her. One of them has a wedding ring stashed in his wallet. Another talks nonstop about "small rubber parts products." Three get together on a bet to see who can bag her first. Every day Erin grows a little more depressed. Are all men like this? Are men always going to be like this?
Director/writer/editor Brad Anderson is an indies veteran with wide experience in documentaries. Not surprisingly, in "Wonderland," he makes full use of the shaking hand-held camera, low production design and ad-libbed dialogue. If a major studio did the same things, it would all look phony. Anderson never stumbles, probably because he never resorts to anything remotely pretentious. No fancy lens tricks, no stylish editing and certainly the actors all perform in the clothes they wore to the set (or slept in the night before).
Wonderland, by the way, is the name of a Boston subway station, one stop after a terminal connecting to Logan Airport. Deserted and windswept, it overlooks a long beach. After this movie though, things may have changed. By now, it could be littered with hot dog stands and parking lots, it might have a bench with a sign that says: "Erin Sat Here."
No matter, the station's most perfect moments are recorded in the movie. Boston, bossa nova and a quiet, contemplative woman -- "Next Stop, Wonderland" should be slipped into a pillow sachet. Sweet dreams.
"Next Stop, Wonderland" is playing at Ginza Theater Seiyu.