A friend of mine made an astute observation the other day. He told me that whenever he attends a film festival, he realizes that nearly all of the movies that sound promising at first end up being duds. Instead, it’s the films with the most pedestrian of plots that delight audiences and make a real impact.
Phoebe in Wonderland, which screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival last Saturday, falls into the latter category. In the movie, Bill Pullman and Felicity Huffman play the parents of the highly imaginative Phoebe (Elle Fanning, Dakota’s younger sister), who is showing symptoms of Tourette syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They seek the help of a psychiatrist, who wants to put Phoebe on medication — but, her parents ask, will doing so stifle Phoebe’s creative spirit? After all, couldn’t her eccentricities just be childhood quirks that’ll pass with time?
“In this age of pharmacology, there are a lot of doctors who say children should be on medicine,” said Pullman, who attended the screening, along with Fanning and Daniel Barnz, the film’s writer and director. “An incredible number of families are facing this question, and without a lot of preparation. They weren’t raised in an era in which, if you have a child who’s a little jumpy, you got a pill for it.”
This is the issue at the heart of Phoebe in Wonderland, a surprisingly assured directing/writing debut from Daniel Barnz, who has crafted a complex but never manipulative story about the difficulties of parenting and the insecurities of childhood. And the audience appeared to eat it right up. I should mention, though, that this was not your ordinary group of festival-goers. The theater was filled with the winners of Nabisco’s “Celebrating 100 Extraordinary Women,” contest, which was co-sponsored by Time Inc. (EW’s parent company). The contest allowed people to nominate women whose everyday actions made “an extraordinary impact on the lives of those around them,” and the 100 winners were flown out to L.A. to participate in the film festival and other events. Here’s hoping wider audiences are similarly enthusiastic about this little drama with an unwieldy title and atypical storyline when it hits theaters in September. And check out a short clip of the film, embedded after the jump!