Nine-year-old Phoebe Lichten (Elle Fanning) is every parents dream and nightmare -- a talented child for whom school presents few challenges, but also a troubled girl prone to flights of fancy and self-abuse. She cannot process the real world, in which she finds no hope, so instead loses herself in a make-believe one: Wonderland, courtesy the drama teacher (Patricia Clarkson) who encourages the lost little kid to jump lest she suffer a more brutal fall. And yet, even as Alice wandering a magical kingdom, Phoebes condition deteriorates; her parents, writers played by Felicity Huffman and Bill Pullman, find it easier to blame themselves than to allow outsiders (shrinks, principals, drama teachers) to interpret the source of Phoebes anguish. A Lifetime Network production, writer-director Daniel Barnzs film is profoundly stirring, if also occasionally maddening; its excursions into whimsy (Phoebe in conversation with the Mad Hatter and Red Queen, say) are clumsy, like scenes from Coraline injected into a far more serious drama about the fine line between illumination and despair. Yet the performances are transcendentespecially Fannings, as the little girl who wants to get better, who wants to be better, as she slowly disappears through the Looking Glass.
March 6-12, 2009