Phoebe In Wonderland (PG-13)
IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; Wikipedia
streaming sites: none that I know of
Elle Fanning plays a 9-year-old girl named Phoebe Lichten... she has a younger sister named Olivia (Bailee Madison), and they're both clearly precocious. Their parents, Hillary (Felicity Huffman) and Peter (Bill Pullman), are both writers, apparently, though I don't think either of them has had much success at that, as yet. Hillary is a stay at home mom who's working on turning her dissertation on "Alice in Wonderland" into a book, but I'm not sure what Peter actually does for a living, though early in the film he apparently has had something he's written accepted for publication. Anyway, it's not important. Phoebe is clearly very imaginative, and smarter than any of the kids in her class. In fact, it's impossible not to sympathize with her having a grasp of things... that goes beyond what any teachers are willing to deal with. But before too long, it becomes painfully apparent that Phoebe suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, among other things. We'll also eventually see that her younger sister has a clearer understanding of that than anyone, and has to act as if she was an older sister. Which is unfortunate, but still... Olivia has a relatively minor role in the movie.
Anyway... there's a new drama teacher at Phoebe's school, named Miss Dodger (Patricia Clarkson), who is directing a production of Alice In Wonderland. Phoebe tries out for it, and gets the role of Alice... which isn't surprising, when you see the other kids who tried out. They clearly have no concept of acting, whereas Phoebe is a natural. (At one point, one of the kids complains that Miss Dodger expects too much, since they're only 10, and I can't help feeling some sympathy, because... in spite of what Miss Dodger, or Phoebe, or some ten-year-olds might be capable of, there's some truth in that. I'm not sure how much it's reasonable to expect of the average ten-year old.) The only other kid besides Phoebe with any real talent is a boy named Jamie, who tries out for and gets the part of the Queen of Hearts. (Predictably, this leads to some trouble, which Miss Dodger handles eloquently.)
Well, I really want to avoid saying too much. It might be a spoiler to say Phoebe is eventually diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, which somehow hadn't occurred to me, but in retrospect is incredibly obvious. I certainly hope that isn't meant to explain everything about her, because I think it's pretty clear that, as I said, she surely has OCD. And she also has... what appear to be hallucinations of a sort, which I don't think is attributable to either condition. But anyway, I need to say that Fanning gave an amazing performance, and I often felt terribly sad for her. I can totally empathize with... recognizing that you're saying or doing inappropriate things, yet being unable to control it. (Not to say I have Tourette's or anything, but still... I feel a certain kinship with my own problems.) I also felt really bad for both of her parents, especially her mother... who I think may have had a similar problem when she was younger. But not exactly... and it may have had something to do with her being unwilling to accept, at first, that there was anything truly wrong with Phoebe. Though it was all so complicated, as evidenced in a scene where she's explaining to her husband how she's feeling... it's all tied up with her perception of herself as a mother, and a writer, and so forth. And there are several times it's clear that she's worried that her own interest in Alice in Wonderland has affected her daughter. I also can't help wondering if Miss Dodger might have dealt with some developmental condition of her own... and then there's Phoebe's father, who I think is fairly normal (aside from being a writer), and yet... well, he ends up demonstrating that there are things anyone can experience at times, which are much the same as someone like Phoebe experiences almost constantly. And then there's the principal, who mostly I think is just ridiculously ineffectual, but... eh, who knows? Maybe he has a problem, too.
Anyway, the movie has some humor, though I think it made me cry more than it made me laugh. I think everyone did a brilliant job of acting, especially Fanning. It's a hard movie to watch, and I could understand if most people don't like it... but I tend to be more attuned to things like this, so it really hit home for me. I found it very powerful... yet as painful as it often was, I also found some hopefulness in it. And... I guess that's all I can think to say.