What a great way to begin the eighth series (and 211th review) of my Saturday Night Movie Reviews column than this little unknown gem of a romantic comedy…
GREEN’S “ALL ALONE ON A CROWDED TRAIN” REVIEW:
Erin (Hope Davis), a young nurse adrift in her life is stunned when her activist boyfriend Sean (Philip Seymour Hoffman) decides to leave her. Which leaves Erin struggling to find serenity on her own, while her meddling (but with good intentions) mother Piper (Holland Taylor) decides to place a personals ad in the newspaper on behalf of her daughter. Which leads to sixty four voice messages and a string of bad dates with the most pathetic bunch of guys. Then there’s Alan (Alan Gelfant), an introspective, quiet plumber who is studying to become a marine biologist. He is being pursued by Frank (Victor Argo) a rough, smarmy, debt collector and fellow biology student Julie (Cara Buono), who wants more than just Alan’s class notes. Is Alan one of the sixty four messages?
Have you ever heard of this movie before? I certainly hadn’t and it was nothing like I expected. What did I expect? Well I certainly didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. What I didn’t expect was that this movie was released in 1998 and escaped my notice for all that time. Probably still would have had I not, on the spur of the moment, decided to borrow it from the library. Even then it took me the full two weeks to get around to watch it. After some internal debate I finally decided to add the DVD to my movie collection.
If there is more of an underrated actress working in Hollywood today than Hope Davis, I don’t know who it would be. Her performance in this movie was fantastic as the introspective loner looking and secretly longing for that one special man (but not looking or secretly longing for him). Philip Seymour Hoffman, arguably one of the most versatile actors of this generation - even though his role is little more than a cameo, is excellent as Sean, Erin’s activist boyfriend who leaves her once and for all and vows to never return again. Aside from those two actors and perhaps Robert Klein, I’d be surprised if you’ve heard of any of the other cast members.
This is one of those movies (and I love this) that was filmed entirely in my home state of Massachusetts: (Boston, Revere, Chelsea and Somerville) before filming in Massachusetts became the fad it currently is. Writer (along with co-writer Lyn Vaus), Director and Editor Brad Anderson lived and worked in Boston while teaching film making classes at the Boston Film and Video Foundation. He knows the city and surrounds and it shows in the movie, officially making the locations an unofficial character in the movie. The screenplay is well written and doesn’t drag in an efficient run time of 96 minutes.
The film derives it’s title from part of Boston’s subway system, as 'Wonderland' is the last stop on one end of the Blue Line, where the Wonderland greyhound dog racing track is located.
The DVD contains no extras, which for a film without a big budget, doesn’t surprise me at all.
****½ out of *****
Next Stop Wonderland (1998, R, 96 minutes), staring Hope Davis, Alan Gelfant, Victor Argo, Jon Benjamin, Cara Buono, Larry Gilliard Jr., Philip Seymour Hoffman and Holland Taylor. Screenplay by Brad Anderson and Lyn Vaus. Edited and Directed by Brad Anderson.