Blowhard, Esq. writes:
While browsing through the clearance table at my local Barnes & Noble, I came across this Michael Winterbottom movie for $2. Probably my favorite movie last year was Winterbottom’s “The Trip,” and given that two bucks is less than I pay for my morning coffee, it was a slam dunk.
“Wonderland” is a plotless slice-of-life about three lonely, working class London sisters as they deal with their various hook-ups, baby daddies, and parents over a four-day period. In its attempt to juggle various intersecting lives and relationships, it appears to be Winterbottom’s attempt at an English “Nashville” or “Short Cuts.” Coincidentally, “Wonderland” was released in 1999, the same year as Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia,” itself an homage to Altman. But as Paleo Retiree points out in his piece on Winterbottom’s “9 Songs,” whereas Anderson seems to work only in an Oscar-baiting, swing-for-the-fences, operatic mode, Winterbottom’s films are in a much more relaxed, minor key.
Well, this movie was a bit too relaxed and minor for me. Winterbottom shoots it with a grainy filmstock and dialogue that feels improvised to give it a verité feel, but the almost total lack of narrative drive made it easy to hit the fast-forward button more than a few times. That the first major conflict comes at the 48 min mark of this 1h 50min film should give you an idea of the movie’s listlessness. Roger Ebert says in his review, “While most plots march from the beginning to the end of a film, these kinds of films move in circles, suggesting that life is not a story but a process. They’re more true to life.” But, everyday life can be pretty boring, can’t it? On the other hand, I enjoyed the fact that Winterbottom showed regular London life and not a sexed-up tourist destination — while Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the National Gallery all appear in the movie, they’re pushed into the background or caught out of the corner of the camera’s eye.
- Jeez, it’s been almost 20 years since I’ve seen “Nashville.” It’s one of the few movies that I loved so much the first time that I’m hesitant to watch it again.
- Winterbottom has directed seventeen features in fifteen years. Matt Zoller Seitz said once, “In the time it took you to read this tweet, Michael Winterbottom directed another movie.”
- My other $2 bargain bin purchase was the straight-to-video “The Skulls II.”
He’s a fun filmmaker. I liked “9 Songs,” which I took as an attempt to evoke wispy, hard-to-get-ahold-of sense memories, but my fave of his is probably “24 Hour Party People.”
Yeah, I like “24 Hour Party People” a lot too.
Another vote here for “24 Hour Party People.” Among its many virtues, as far as I’m concerned: that’s how the punk scene looked and felt to me during my years on the fringes of it.
Winterbottom is such a wildman talent and has such a huge amount of drive that I’m surprised I haven’t loved-loved-loved more of his movies than I have. Of all the guys who work in a reminiscent-of-the’70s mode he strikes me as the most gifted. Yet if anyone asks me for a recommendation, the only one of his pix (that I’ve seen, anyway) I can recommend wholeheartedly is “24 Hour Party People.”