For a girl who's only 15, Dakota Fanning has made an incredible name for herself as a reliable and mature actress with several quality films to her credit. Now, it's her younger sister Elle's turn to do the same, and she's only 11.
Elle Fanning stars as the title character in Phoebe in Wonderland, a drama about a troubled young girl with an active imagination. Though she struggles in many of her classes, she finds solace in theater under the guidance of a new teacher (Patricia Clarkson). As they prepare to do "Alice in Wonderland," Phoebe's imagination runs wild - but it also becomes clearer to her parents than their daughter is suffering from a serious illness.
Phoebe in Wonderland is a beautiful, well-acted and well-written movie that deals with childhood innocence and adult themes simultaneously, in a believable and fluid way. Writer/director Daniel Barnz evokes the most out of his characters, including Felicity Huffman as Phoebe's ignorance-is-bliss mother and Bill Pullman as the father. Clarkson is also quite good. But it's Fanning, who was robbed of a speaking role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button when director David Fincher foolishly decided that it would be a better idea to dub her over with Cate Blanchett's, who steals the show. Fanning plays the part with amazing maturity while, at the same time, acts more like a child than Dakota ever has. All this while depicting someone who has early stages of Tourette syndrome.
The film's weakness is that Barnz takes the easy way out a few times in terms of character development. Huffman's character, who refuses to accept that there's anything wrong with her daughter, is a bit stereotypical; we've seen characters like this many times in the past. Other dynamics within the family are a bit cliché as well, and could have used more development to make things truly unique. The ending also doesn't resolve things as much as I would have liked; it's abrupt, and doesn't show us how the family evolved as a result, if at all.
Still, Phoebe in Wonderland is a well-made picture that features an excellent performance by Elle Fanning. We'll be seeing much more of her in the coming years.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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