Next Stop Wonderland [1998]

A lovely, lilting soundtrack of samba and bossa nova melodies gently guides this charming movie about Erin (Hope Davis), a young nurse adrift in her life. When her boyfriend, a hyperactive political activist played by the amazing Philip Seymour Hoffman (Boogie Nights, Happiness), leaves her, Erin struggles to find serenity on her own. Meanwhile, her mother schemes to find her a new boyfriend by placing a personal ad for Erin without her knowledge. Next Stop Wonderland juxtaposes this with the story of Alan (Alan Gelfant), a plumber struggling to get a degree as a marine biologist. The movie weaves all sorts of hints about fate and destiny, so it's no surprise at the end when Erin and Alan meet--but the fun is in getting there. In addition to the well-drawn characters and sharp, clever writing (the sequence of personal-ad dates that Erin goes on is both funny and painful), the movie is full of visual grace notes. For example, while at a bar, Alan spills a drink on a newspaper; the wet newsprint becomes translucent and reveals a photo of Erin that was taken at an aquarium fundraiser and printed in the society page. But before Alan even sees it, his friends scoop up the wet paper and throw it away. These moments have a casual, tossed-off air that evokes a lightly mystical sense of how our lives float on a thousand invisible coincidences. More than anything else, the movie spotlights Hope Davis's intelligence and quiet soulfulness. This wonderful actress has been appearing in small roles in Hollywood features (Arlington Road, Mumford) that don't do her justice; Next Stop Wonderland lets her glow. --Bret Fetzer

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