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With: Hope Davis, Alan Gelfant, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jose Zuniga
Written by: Brad Anderson, Lyn Vaus
Directed by: Brad Anderson
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 104
Date: 01/17/1998

Next Stop Wonderland (1998)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Bostonians

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Next Stop Wonderland is the second feature by writer and director Brad Anderson, but it's the first that will receive national attention. It's a wonderful romantic comedy that borrows the basic formula of Sleepless in Seattle (1993) -- two lovers fated for each other but tantalizingly kept apart -- and brings it to life.

Hope Davis plays Erin, a nurse who has just been dumped by her tree-hugging activist boyfriend (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Meanwhile Alan (Alan Gelfant), who works at the Aquarium and is studying marine biology, may be the answer to her dreams. But, maddeningly, their paths refuse to cross. Anderson throws us off course during the film by adding some seriously attractive contenders for their affections. Alan is faced with a sexy female classmate who is forever trying to "study" with him. In the hospital, Erin meets Andre (Jose Zuniga), a dreamy Brazilian who wants to whisk her away. These secondary characters are interesting and very likable, again breaking with Hollywood tradition which says the third party must be annoying, nerdy, and posses bad personal habits (for example, Bill Pullman's nasal problem in Sleepless in Seattle).

The title refers to one of the stops on Boston's Blueline, but it serves as a nice metaphor for something brighter, more hopeful. Like Good Will Hunting, the movie pays close attention to the details of Boston. Most Hollywood romantic comedies follow the unwritten rule that they must look as sterile and homogenized as possible (has New York City ever looked as spotless as it did in As Good as It Gets?). Next Stop Wonderland has a grungy look that, combined with real city locations, makes the film feel real and gives it a rich texture.

Next Stop Wonderland is a treasure. I predict it will catch on with romantic moviegoers the way Four Weddings and a Funeral did.

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