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(1998) (Hope Davis, Alan Gelfant) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Mild Minor Moderate None Minor
Minor None None None Heavy
Smoking Tense Family
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Romantic Comedy: The lives of a romantically challenged night-shift nurse and an ambitious ex- plumber crisscross as fate and/or sheer luck eventually brings the two together.
Erin Castleton (HOPE DAVIS) is a nurse who works the night-shift in Boston and has recently been dumped by her political activist boyfriend, Sean (PHIL HOFFMAN). Angry, edgy and decidedly monastic since then, Erin hangs out with her coworkers and friends, Cricket (CALLIE THORNE) and Rick (KEN CHEESEMAN), a gay male nurse, as they discuss whether love comes about from fate, destiny, or simple luck.

Despite her nonchalance toward being alone, Erin's mood is further worsened when her over- involved mother, Piper (HOLLAND TAYLOR), places a personal ad in the local newspaper for her daughter and describes her as frisky and carefree, something quite dissimilar to her usual melancholy self. When she finally decides to check and respond to her messages -- of which there are more than sixty -- she goes on several test dates that advance her already beleaguered belief in ever finding Mr. Right.

Across town, Alan Monteiro (ALAN GELFANT) is an ambitious ex-plumber who's studying to be a marine biologist. Older than this fellow classmates, Alan must not only deal with a young and sultry classmate, Julie (CARA BUONO), who has a crush on him, but also an unseen father with a gambling problem. Then there's Frank (VICTOR ARGO), the local loan-shark, who's always after Alan for the money he lent him to get through school, when not working for a corrupt businessman, Arty Lesser (ROBERT KLEIN), who wants the land owned by the aquarium where Alan volunteers his time.

While Alan tries to deal with both Julie and Frank, Erin simultaneously must deal with all of her would-be suitors, including Frank's brother, Kevin (SAM SEDER), who's going out with her just to win a bet, and Andre De Silva (JOSE ZUNIGA), a charismatic, Brazilian musicologist who's the first to rekindle Erin's long extinguished romantic flame. As the two world-weary souls and their paths occasionally cross, it's only a matter of time before fate or destiny brings Erin and Alan together.

If they're fans of romantic comedies in the vein of "Sleepless in Seattle" they will, but the relatively unknown cast won't draw in many others.
For language.
  • HOPE DAVIS plays a near chain smoking woman who has several comical "test" dates while wondering if she'll ever meet the right man for her.
  • ALAN GELFANT plays an ambitious, but unassuming ex-plumber who borrowed money from a loan-shark to get through school, and must deal with him and a younger classmate who's interested in dating him.
  • VICTOR ARGO plays the local loan-shark who's constantly after Alan to repay his debts and who coerces him into action to avoid other repercussions.
  • CARA BUONO plays a young student who has the hots for the much older Alan.
  • JOSE ZUNIGA plays a friendly and charismatic Brazilian who finally breaks through Erin's distant demeanor and invites her to join him on a trip overseas.


    OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
    Playing out like a low-budget version of "Sleepless in Seattle," director Brad Anderson's sophomore effort is reminiscent of the glossier Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan picture, but still manages to stand on its own. Witty, charming, and often slyly outrageous, this is an excellent entry in the romantic comedy genre.

    Like "Sleepless," the film toys with the audience's belief and anticipation that the two lovelorn characters will get together, and Anderson and cowriter Lyn Vaus have made sure that their paths occasionally cross and continuously move closer together until the predictable, but still enjoyable conclusion.

    As in similar films of this genre, their "pass-by's" often push the credibility and statistical realism factors to new levels, but that's part of the "magic" of these types of stories and explains why romantics worldwide simply love them. Despite what the characters may say to the contrary, these films are simply about the fate, destiny, or sheer outrageous luck that manages to bring two strangers together into a meaningful relationship.

    While Anderson could have kept the plot simple and straightforward (which, for the most part, it is), he's wisely populated the film with various characters who symbolize that cohesive fate, destiny or luck. Although some may find that such material often gets a bit heavy-handed in hammering down such points, most will find that such scenes simply add more charm and comedy to the proceedings.

    He's also included several prolonged, but hilarious montages of Erin and the men who've responded to the ad her mother placed on her behalf. In doing so, Anderson serves up a delicious double scoop of humorous and observational material as we not only see the men's initial telephone calls to Erin, but also their occasionally odd and amusing behavior and comments during the "test" dates.

    What makes all of this work is the stellar performance from the lead actress, Hope Davis ("The Myth of Fingerprints"). Although the story -- in theory and usual practice -- is supposed to be evenly split between the would-be lovers, this is clearly Davis' movie. Perfectly playing the disenchanted and recently jilted woman, Davis not only is completely believable in the role, but her reactions -- both verbal and from body language -- to her suitors and others who offer their opinions about her romantic life are funny and right on target.

    The other half of the pairing -- as portrayed by Alan Gelfant ("The Crow: City of Angels") -- can't help but take a backseat to Davis' character, although they never really meet until near the end of the story. That's not to say that Gelfant's character is any less substantial, and he does deliver a likewise believable and charming performance in the role.

    The supporting performers are fine, and while most blend into an anonymous but pleasant concoction, a few stand out. Jose Zuniga ("Con Air") is charming as Erin's suitor with the most potential and Holland Taylor is funny in her brief bits as Erin's over-involved mother.

    The scene stealer, however, is Phil Hoffman ("Twister") as Erin's boyfriend who's dumping her as the story begins. His brief, but hilarious performance is enhanced by some clever writing (including a videotape listing the reasons they have to break up), and the presence of his character easily helps jumpstart the film right from the start.

    The picture also benefits from a heavy dose of samba and bossa nova tunes that perfectly establish the mood and genre atmosphere. Featuring classic recordings and an instrumental score by Claudio Ragazzi -- along with several original covers -- the music is as much a character as those portrayed by the cast and is a welcomed addition to this fine picture.

    Only a few elements slightly mar this otherwise wonderful little film. Directly related to the word "little," the film's decidedly low budget look may distract some moviegoers from the proceedings, as might Anderson's constantly moving, near documentary shooting style. Even so, the film's charm and humor should quickly dissipate any adverse effects that the low budget elements may present.

    For those who usually like more substantial plots -- like myself -- the film's story may prove to be somewhat weak, but I personally found that the overall tone and the wonderfully written characters made up for any substantial plot deficiencies. Finally, although the subplots involving Alan's experiences working at the Boston Aquarium and dealing with a local loan-shark provide for some humorous moments, they often seem quite removed from the film's overall thrust.

    Those are only minor objections, however, to an otherwise witty, charming and quite funny film. Featuring a great performance from Davis who's backed up by a decent and charismatic cast, this film should easily please fans of the romantic comedy genre. How much of an audience it will find is questionable, however, but those who discover this little gem will be happy they did. We give "Next Stop, Wonderland" an 8 out of 10.

    If not for 3 uses of the "f" word, this film easily could have received a PG-13 rating which would have given it a much broader and needed audience. Nonetheless, that's what gives the film its R rating, and some other PG rated language also occurs. The main character smokes quite a bit, and we also see some mild "social" drinking.

    Beyond some brief bad attitudes and some mild sexually related material, there's not much else of major concern. Even so, you may want to take a closer look at the content should you or someone else in your home wish to see this film.

    On a special note, for those concerned with the occurrence of repetitive flashes, a scene involving the close-up shot of a TV set shows a brief amount of such flashes.

  • Erin and her mom have what must be cocktails in a restaurant.
  • People have drinks at a reception.
  • Piper has some champagne.
  • Erin and her friends and coworkers have drinks in a bar, while Alan, his brother and others also have drinks/beer.
  • During a montage showing Erin talking to or going out on dates with different guys, she and some of them occasionally drink.
  • Andre and Erin have wine.
  • Alan chops up some fish and drops the pieces into the piranha tank and we consequently see a bloody mess in the tank.
  • Arty Lesser has both as he's presumably responsible for vandalism at the aquarium (graffiti) and for ordering Frank to get Alan to "dispose of" a prized fish residing there.
  • Frank has both for not only continually pressuring Alan (he's a loan-shark), but also for working for Lesser.
  • Cricket's date hits on Erin when Cricket's not around.
  • Alan's brother and some other men agree to make a bet about which one will "score" (French kiss) Erin first after responding to her personal ad.
  • Varying levels of guys with bad attitudes appear, with some calling women "chicks" or "hot chicks" and another being discovered as married when his wedding ring falls from his pocket (while on a date with Erin).
  • None.
  • Handgun: Briefly played with by a security guard who then draws it when he thinks someone is in the aquarium he's guarding (played for laughs).
  • Phrases: "Chick," "Hot chick" and "Toots" (for women), "Bitch" (said in an explanation and not about a particular person), "Moron," "Idiot," "Bastard," "Fag," "Pansy assed" and "Pain in the ass."
  • We see some graffiti on the walls of an aquarium (but don't see anyone in the act).
  • Some may get the idea to run personal ads for others without their knowledge (although this is a mother doing so for her daughter).
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • At least 3 "f" words, 13 "s" words, 1 slang term for male genitals ("pr*ck"), 3 asses, 2 hells, 1 crap, and 4 uses of "Oh my God," 2 uses each of "G-damn," "God" and "Oh God," and 1 use each of "For Christ's sakes," "Oh Christ" and "Christ."
  • We see Erin in her bra as she's getting dressed.
  • For those concerned with such matters, one of Erin's male coworkers is gay, and in a separate scene, a friend asks Alan, "What, are you, some kind of fag?" when Alan doesn't want to meet Erin. Later, Cricket tells Erin that her latest boyfriend came out as being gay. None of these moments, however, show any activity.
  • We see some guy in Piper's hotel room getting dressed while she talks on the phone, perhaps suggesting they had sex.
  • Alan's teacher indirectly comments on Julie's chest by bra size. Later, we see the two kissing and he briefly runs his hand over her clothed breast.
  • Erin briefly acts like she's seducing a man (nothing explicit -- she just runs her hand up his clothed leg and tells him to meet her the next night) after she discovers that he's in on a bet with several other men regarding her.
  • Alan and Julie briefly do some passionate kissing up against a wall, but nothing else happens.
  • Erin smokes quite a bit throughout the movie, while Frank smokes a few cigars, Alan and Piper smoke once, and some minor characters smoke a few times (cigars and cigarettes).
  • It's briefly mentioned that Erin's father died sometime in the past.
  • Whether fate, destiny or sheer coincidence and luck bring people together.
  • Dating and the "posing" that often occurs and is misrepresentative of the people involved.
  • Loan-sharks and the money owed by Alan to Frank.
  • Erin slightly pushes Sean toward his car when he's breaking up with her.
  • Kevin and two friends briefly push each other around when they discover they've all arrived at the same place to date Erin and realize they've been set up.

  • Reviewed August 7, 1998

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