- The Lunch with Justin Chang, Chief Film Critic for Variety: Down to the Wire on 2013 …
- The Lunch with Director Shaul Schwartz of ‘Narco Cultura’
- The Lunch with Dir. Joel Allen Schroder of ‘Dear Mr. Watterson …’
- The Lunch with John Sayles, Director/Writer of ‘Go for Sisters’
- The Lunch with ‘Charlie Victor Romeo’ Directors Patrick Daniels and Robert Berger
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Tag Archives: Anne Hathaway
With its low-wattage cast and Brit-lit pedigree, no one expected “An Education” to become a hit — but it did, garnering Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress Carey Mulligan and Best Picture. Director Lone Scherfig returns to the fields of British literature with her newest film, ‘One Day,” based on David Nicholls best-seller, following two people — Anne Hathaway’s Emma and Jim Sturgess’s Dexter — through two decades of their lives by checking in with them every July 15th. We spoke with Scherfig in L.A. about boiling two decades down to two hours, the surprise success of “An Education” and how the changing film industry makes it harder and harder to make films about, and for, grown-ups.
How did you become aware of David Nicholls’ novel?
Scherfig: He had written the script before I was involved, so I drafted the script and then read the book. It was the other way around. I spent a lot of time here at that time, and the book wasn’t out in the United States — or in Denmark, where it wasn’t out, either. It was in all the bookshops in London and all the windows and all of the counters. It was very quickly very popular. It’s a great book; it’s now on the bestseller’s list here again. It’s a good read.
In a lot of ways, it’s got to be the emotional equivalent of a page-turner: You want to know what happens next.
Scherfig: You like them very much; you enjoy being with Dexter and Emma. They’re easy to identify with. The structure where you check in on them on the same day every year forces, the structure he has forced upon himself, makes him make strange decisions or interesting decisions about what happens when you do meet them. Of course that had to be turned into something that was cinema in a way so that you feel it can only have been done as cinema so you don’t feel you’ve been watching an adaptation and where you forget that it’s a book and it feels like a film.
I always think about adaptation in terms of narrative compressability: Can you fit ‘Doctor Zhivago’ into X number of hours? Can you fit Y amount of material into limited hours of a film? How do you make this not feel too swift, not feel too rushed in order to fit it into the running times of film as opposed to the more elastic space of a book?
Scherfig: There’s a lot of detail that is packed into this film that is just there, that you can decide to go with and look at or not focus on. You don’t have to look at the old cars or listen to the music of the ’90s or be interested in how wide the shoulder pads are. I’m hoping that it’s solid enough to not overpower the emotion, that time jumps are there and they are entertaining but they don’t take you away from the characters. David himself, having written the script, had made the decisions about what to make. It isn’t ‘Doctor Zhivago.’ It’s a fairly light book; it’s a wonderful, very accurate description of a specific place at a specific time. The problem of dealing with something that’s truly epic, we’ve not had that problem. I think it’s a very flattering comparison, and actually I love that film.
You do have a 2-decade long span of star-crossed lovers. You’re saying it’s not epic, but at the same time, there’s such fuel on the table by the end of it, and you do build that up; there’s a slow process of accrual, and you get really invested.
Scherfig: We do have an ambition of making something that can become a classic love film. I think the definition of something epic is that it’s about the time and not the clout. Zhivago is Russia; Scarlett O’Hara is the South. In a way, Emma and Dexter are living in the ’90s but the scale is much smaller. You came up with that comparison; I didn’t. We do hope that it will have the appeal of a classic, romantic, very emotional thing, like ‘Love Story’ or ‘The Way We Were,’ all these heartbreaking films of my youth.
When you’re determining things like, “Emma’s glasses need to look like this,” or “Dexter’s shoulder pads need to look like this,” do you have to reign it in so it doesn’t look too big and too obvious and too much like a TV sketch?
Scherfig: When the scenes have more humor, you can go a little further. At certain moments you really wish you would have pulled back, because technology gets involuntarily funny very quickly, for instance: oversized cell phones. Sometimes people look poor because their clothes are old. When people wear clothes from the early ’90s, they look like they haven’t had any new clothes for 20 years and not period. It’s harder to do recent period than something that takes place in the ’50s, for instance. Then everything immediately looks right, just because everything looks spot-on even if it isn’t.
Obviously there was resisting the impulse to Americanize it; at the same time, you do have an American actress playing Em, hurling herself into it and doing a good job with not just accent, which is very drama school, but the comedic sensibility you would expect someone like Em, who’s a striver and smart and not quite posh and working-class but uncomfortably in an upper-class environment. How much work did that take to get that with Ms. Hathaway? Or did she show up, having done a lot of work?
Scherfig: She does do a lot of work. She’s very, very diligent. The book was helpful in terms of getting to known Emma. We did some rehearsing, but some of it was a period that Anne remembers, and she too — even if she’s been much more goal-oriented than Emma Morley and known what she wanted to do at an earlier age. She thinks, she says she knows Emma Morley very well and it’s not hard for her to identify with someone, and is very smart, well-educated, well-read, insecure like Emma Morley. Emma’s most basic character traits are in Anne. I’m not saying that Anne is a nerd, but I was surprised at how smart she is. She’s far more intelligent than most of the characters she’s played, and that very often is rare, that when you meet actors they fade a little bit in comparison with the heroes you’ve seen them play. I don’t know if that answers your question.
Were you prepared for just how fiercely ‘An Education’ took off?
It took you by surprise that everyone was talking about the film? Here’s the thing: A lot of people talked about the film because of Ms. Mulligan and it’s a delightful performance; that, to me, is missing a lot of it, that it’s got a great script, a great supporting cast all the way down — Alfred Molina — it’s perfectly pitched at this exact moment in history where we didn’t have feminism but needed it desperately. Did you expect it to take off so much?
Scherfig: No. It’s like playing the flute when everyone else has a symphony orchestra, like cooking just an omelet at a 5-star restaurant.You have to trust that something that is simple and small has a right to be there. I think what I’ve learned from it — that and the other films I’ve done — is that quality not always has to do with a scale. It’s helped me a lot with ‘One Day’ that I know how to work or make fast decisions and work on a small budget, but it was bliss not to have to, to be able to use much more of my craft and work with a bigger crew, more lamps, access to much more music, more strings in the orchestra and to know that we had American distribution, because when you do films in Europe, you have to work at small scale because you don’t know if the film’s going to cross over to the size of audience that you can find in this country.
It seems like the film industry’s turning into Brazil: There’s no middle class. Your movie either costs $200 million or $2 million. This is in between. Do you find that it’s getting harder and harder to make the movie for grown-ups that costs around $20 million?
Scherfig: We did that. The way I noticed it was that people from the crew talked about that they felt fortunate to get a job on one of the few films that were made that still have that ambition and you had the possibility to do your craft properly and not compromise as much as you have to. To made this kind of film, this film could probably not have been done on a much smaller budget. It wouldn’t have suited the film if the budget had been much bigger. The identity of the way you decide what kind of film machine you’re going to use to get the best out of it has a lot to do with budget, and this film belongs in that range. I know how to work with extremely limited (budgets). People knew — and because there wasn’t that much going on and there was a financial crisis — it’s the one film I’ve ever done where people actually talked about that they felt fortunate or privileged to get that kind of job. They knew that it’s going a bit in your direction, or the direction you’re describing. It can change again, but of course it’s a reaction to all the secondary: The DVD market changing, the whole way you see films changing.
Mr. Sturgess: Was it unexpected how good he was? I’ve seen him be good in things, but he’s really ridiculously good in this, and the more gray you put in his hair, the more handsome he gets. Was it a bit surprising, or were you completely confident from the audition process that he was going to do it?
Scherfig: It’s surprising that he is has as little ego as he has. It’s surprising to me that his personality came as a surprise, that it was not just, “He’s very kind” on the first day; he was also very kind on the 42nd day — modest, humble, focused — that I didn’t know. He’s courageous: He dares to not defend Dexter all the time, that he makes brave choices and he dares being unsympathetic for a while, that he orchestrates his performance well. He has done quite a few films, and I think he ahs worked with some very interesting directors, so I think he’s never played it safe; he’s never done anything that’s obvious. Maybe he will get scripts now where he gets more traditional material. Hopefully he gets a lot that he can get his hands on and get challenges, because I think he’ll live up to them.
Are you somebody who watches stuff to get a feel for things? Did you find yourself watching any films before watching this?
Scherfig: Yes, I did, but that was more about makeup changes and time jumps. If I should pick a favorite out of that pile, it’s ‘Once Upon a Time in America.’ The films that I like are much more genre-oriented. I like something where the craft is sublime. I like the big auteurs and the American big auteurs — the challenge of how to make time work for the story is something that I would see what have other people done, but I wouldn’t watch good films in order to see how to make the chemistry between two lovers work on film.
After the magical realism of the Beatles-inspired “Across the Universe” and the high-stakes suspense of “21,” Jim Sturgess now stars in “One Day,” Lone Scherfig’s adaptation of the best-selling novel by David Nicholls, where Sturgess’s Dexter and Anne Hathaway’s Emma fall in love over 20 years of July 15ths. It’s a carefully-crafted performance as Dexter moves up and down the wheels of fortune and karma — and through the years. We spoke with Sturgess via phone about “One Day,” which Britpop idol the artificially-aged Mr. Sturgess most resembles and the varied reception ‘Acros the Universe” still gets.
Were you aware of Mr. Nichols’s book before the script came? It feels like one of those books that really took Britain by storm.
Sturgess: I wasn’t really around in England that much around that time, so I didn’t know anything about it at all. The first I heard of it was the script. The script came on my desk directed by Lone Scherfig, who I knew from ‘An Education,’ so that was really what got me interested. I read the book after. I went and had a meeting with Lone in London, and then she gave me her copy of the book, so I started reading it after that.
Did you know about the essential model of the structure of it when you started reading it? Did you know that it was going to jump forward year by year on that specific date, or did that unfold for you the way it might unfold for the audience?
Sturgess: That just came. I knew nothing about it at all — literally just said ‘One Day’ on the front, ‘To be directed by Lone Scherfig; Focus Features,’ it just (gave) you the who’s involved kind of thing. I read it, and the script, which is a nice way around of doing it, really. I wasn’t going, ‘What happened in that bit? What have they done to that bit?’ I just read it and took it at face value, as the audience watching the film. I really enjoyed it as a good script. I knew that it had engaged me the way that they had done it.
Was there ever a point when everybody was concerned that while the film moves ahead a year at a time and it starts in the early ’90s and goes to the present day, was there ever a concern about things getting a bit too dress-up, getting a bit too ‘theme night at the dance club,’ try to keep it from looking too artificially ’90s?
Sturgess: Yeah. I think there was such a good costume and makeup department, and Lone has got such good taste. She’s so good at tonally weaving her way through the film. That was never a concern for me. I think Lone really knew when to amp it up a bit and when to make sure that it didn’t get in the way of what was really going on with these two people. It was never my concern. I had so much faith in people around me that I didn’t worry about it. Actually, when I put on one of those suits, I was like, ‘What the f**k is this?’ I didn’t believe that people actually wore suits with such tight shoulderpads.
I think of all the fashion crimes of our modern era, shoulderpads might be the worst.
Sturgess: Me too.
Did you have moments where you woke up and went, ‘What year is it? What decade are we doing today?’
Sturgess: Totally. It was like that all the time. It was like constantly making a new film all the time, and you constantly had to check where you were at and which part you were doing. That could change from the morning to the afternoon: You could suddenly be having lunch, and you’d suddenly be in your 40s. Before lunch, you’re in your 20s, and you’d have lunch and you’d be 40. That was constantly jumping around like that.
I want to talk about deeper emotional, performance-driven stuff, but as a side note: Did you feel lucky that the old version of you looks so much like Paul Weller from ‘The Jam?’
Sturgess: That’s a massive compliment. I’ll take that as a compliment, for sure.
Is it now to be hoped that after having seen this, you now have a vague hope that perhaps one day you will indeed age gracefully?
Sturgess: If I could end up looking like that in my 40s, then I’d quite be alright with that. If I can actually pull my hair, then I’m laughing.
There is a great line from George Orwell that by 50 every man has a face that he deserves, and I couldn’t help but think of that.
Sturgess: I’m sure I’ll end up being bald and fat.
The one thing I’m wondering about is your character takes this incredibly lonely job as a TV presenter, and I’m wondering if, on a less immediately level, any of the psychological fallout you get from being an actor filtered its way into that? It’s a similar profession that you’re out in front of the public eye, you’re terrified of the passage of time and being too old for stuff, but also doing things that are beneath your dignity. Were you able to tap into that more actor-ly part of you to play a TV presenter, or were you just able to find it on the page?
Sturgess: I think the problem that Dexter has is that he buys into celebrity and that he buys into that whole world. It’s like red to a bull: He’s the kind of person who’s going to exploit that lifestyle, and that’s the person Dexter is. I’m not really like that at all, myself. He’s inside of himself in this lonely, vacuous life of a minor celebrity. For me, I’m really enjoying my job and I’m really enjoying the process of acting. I think that kind of presenting, not presenting all over the board but Dexter does youth culture, late night TV presenting , it doesn’t come out of talent; it comes out of the fact that you’re a big personality. You ride that wave, I suppose. I don’t feel like I drew anything from my own personal experiences, I don’t think. I imagined how Dexter would do it. It was actually a lot of fun; I really enjoyed Dexter.
I’m curious about running scenes with Ms. Hathaway, because she’s a capital-M Movie Star, but she’s also an incredibly talented actress. And there’s that joke about how Ginger Rogers had to do everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards in high heels. She had to do everything you did, but with a phony accent. Was it a really satisfying experience, working with her, the pleasure of running scenes with her?
Sturgess: Yeah, like you said, she’s a talented actress and really cares about the film material and the characters. As far as the accent, I had no sense of it at all. Normally I’m the one doing the accent in someone else’s country, so it was nice to have it be someone else for a change. It was great to watch her work, and work as hard as she did on the accent. It was great to be around; I know that she cared about the character so much. It was nice to be the host for a change. Normally I’m off in America or doing characters from different parts of the world. It was nice to be in my hometown and make a film, a story that came out of London.
When people approach you to talk about ‘Across the Universe,’ are they shaking their head, or are they telling you that secretly it’s one of their favorite films? Is history going to demonstrate that ‘Across the Universe’ was a work of true genius?
Sturgess: I don’t know. I’m sure that people like it and dislike it. Very few people come up to me and tell me they don’t like it, but that’s because that’s rude. Most people mostly approach me about it are very positive because they’re fans of the film and they want to have a conversation about it because it’s a film they enjoy. I’m very aware and I’m sure people are fans and aren’t such fans of the movie. It seems to have found an audience; it seems to have found people who really are passionate about the film, and the people who like it really love it and watch it over and over again. It’s one of those films that you can revisit and watch over again. That’s good enough for me.
When you stumble across it on the telly (television), do you go, ‘I can sit down and enjoy this,’ or do you just get confused and go, ‘Who are these people, and why are they all singing?’
Sturgess: Probably the latter one. No, I have such fond memories of the time that we shot — the first time I’d ever been in America. It was a really exciting experience. I’ve never seen it come on the telly. I live in England, and people don’t even know about that film in England; it’s completely unheard of. It’s only when I come to America that I realize people actually like and have seen the film.
Talking to Anne Hathaway about her work voicing Jewel, a macaw in the animated 3D film “Rio,” the actress made it clear that like all animated projects, the road from idea to finished production was fairly convoluted. When I asked her if she did any macaw-related research, Hathaway gave the most elegant shrug imaginable. “When I signed up, there wasn’t a script. A couple months later, there was, and I derived most of my macaw information from that.”
But Hathaway didn’t just get a script — she got verses to sing in a few of the animated film’s musical numbers. Again, this may not have been part of her original signing on: “I didn’t know I’d be singing when I agreed to the film. For the record, I didn’t know I’d be singing in ‘Ella Enchanted,’ either. It’s just something that comes up, and depending on whether or not it feels right, it’s always fun. In this case, you get to go sing a Sergio Mendes song or a will.i.am song. It’s a cool thing.”
Co-starring opposite Jesse Eisenberg, Hathaway faced the familiar challenge of animation voice acting: How do you have chemistry with an actor who’s not even in the recording booth with you? Hathaway credited director Carlos Saldanha. “I think it’s not really us. I think it’s Carlos that monitored us and made sure we were going to fit together. Jesse and I had a leg up in this department, because we were on a television series (‘Get Real’) together 10 years ago — actually, no, more than 10 years ago at this point, God. We’d worked together, so we knew each other’s timing.”
Saldanha also provided the passion that made the film a pleasure for Hathaway — the Brazilian-born Saldanha practically willed the film into being after his success with the “Ice Age” films. “I think he probably spoke more about his experience as being someone from Rio with the animators, but with us, we were focused on the characters. But his passion for this movie is what got this movie made, because it was three years of him working every single day, on planes, going to wherever we were. It’s a huge cast. The movie’s so enormous in scope, I don’t know how we did it, and he never once lost his temper, even a tiny bit, never once even claimed to be tired. He’s an extraordinary person, so pure of heart, and I’m so proud of him and happy that this is turning out so well for him.”
And, having seen the finished the film the night before, Hathaway spoke rapturously of the film’s soaring 3D. “It’s so cool. The moments I like 3D the most are whenever a film’s about flight, because you really get to go on the journey. When I saw ‘Avatar‘ in 3D, during that flying sequence where he tames that mountain creature — ah, that was so cool. This one had the same feeling where your stomach is moving with the screen, you feel your whole body reacting to it… (it’s) cinema-induced vertigo.”
How cold was it at the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday in Santa Monica? It was so cold, I joked, that you couldn’t feel Harvey Weinstein stab you in the back. After a two-year experiment in holding the Spirit Awards in downtown Los Angeles, the awards returned to their traditional location on the beach at Santa Monica last Saturday. What the ceremony gained in metaphorical heat, though, it lost in literal temperature, with chilly winds whipping off the ocean fast.
But plenty of the attendees had the warm glow of victory to comfort them, including Best Cinematography winner Matthew Libatique of “Black Swan.” Libatique had a certain cocksure charm — he said of the Spirit Award “This is my Academy Award” and joked about “200 million dollars worldwide” — and yet still spoke with sincerity when I asked him if he felt the award was a vindication for shooting on film over video. “I honestly think this digital-versus-film thing is blown out of proportion,” he said. “Digital’s just another choice, so I never look at it this way, and I don’t want to get into a philosophy of ‘film is better than digital’ or ‘digital is better than film.’ The one thing is, digital has allowed a lot of people who wouldn’t normally make films to make films, so that’s cool with me. I’m just happy; it’s hard to make a thriller, man.”
James Franco — on the eve of his hosting the Academy Awards — was bundled up and beaming when he met the press in the wake of his victory for Best Actor for “127 Hours” to face questions about his hosting duties the next night for the Academy Awards alongside Anne Hathaway. “The Oscars … are a thing,” he said. “They’ve been going on for 83 years. I’m kind of joining a bigger apparatus, so it’s gonna be pretty familiar in some ways. They’re allowing us to be relaxed. They’re not stretching us into some mold where we don’t fit.”
Asked about the difference between acting in an independent film and a big-budget enterprise, Franco delivered an answer that only he could: “As some people in this tent might know, I just did some different parts on ‘General Hospital’ … and before I did that, I thought, ‘Am I going to have to act differently? Am I going to have to act like I’m on a soap opera? And what does that even mean?’ And when I got there, I realized that I didn’t have to act any differently: My job is to act as realistically in the parameters of this world as possible. The acting, at its core, is kind of the same whether you’re on a soap opera, an independent film or a big-budget film; it’s just that the context around you changes, and each project has its own reality.”
Meanwhile, “The King’s Speech” director Tom Hooper — winning for Best Foreign Film — was living his own soap opera, facing the prospect of his film being re-released, cut to meet a PG-13 rating. Hooper was getting ready to see the altered cut on Monday — but, I had to ask, was he at all happy about the idea of his film being recut? “Until I see it I can’t tell,” he said. “I’m certainly unhappy with kids being unable to see it here, especially because it touches on so many issues to do with childhood — (namely) please don’t carry the trauma of childhood through your adult life. In other countries — in the U.K., in Canada — I’ve had wonderful e-mails from 8-year-olds, 9-year-olds seeing the movie and being moved by it.”
“Love and Other Drugs,” the new star-driven romance from director Ed Zwick, isn’t exactly unwelcome. The leads, Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal, are charming and light as they meet and fall for each other, and they also dig deep — or, rather, deeper than the average rom-com — when romantic uncertainty and Hathaway’s Parkinson’s disease drag the long shadows of sadness and mortality into the sunshine of their love. The supporting cast — including Hank Azaria and Oliver Platt — give their little side bits everything they have. It’s also nice to see Zwick stepping away from his recent string of leaden, well-intentioned films (“Blood Diamond,” “Defiance”) that tried to be both entertaining and important and yet somehow wound up being neither.
The only thing to dislike about “Love and Other Drugs” is how clearly, and desperately, it wants to be liked. And that’s frankly a pity, because there’s something sincere and plainspoken at the heart of the film, and you can sense it shooting for the same kind of modern-Zen territory as “Jerry Maguire.” What does it mean to be good? What does it mean to be successful? What does it mean to love? These aren’t bad questions for a movie to want to answer, and you can feel the movie sharpen its pencils and get out its paper and begin tackle those big issues … only to have those efforts distracted and diluted by the subplots, secondary characters and sideways digressions of the script.
Gyllenhaal’s Jamie, charming and callow and jobless in the wintry wilds of Ohio in 1996, gets a job as a pharmaceuticals rep for Pfizer. While on his pleading, cajoling rounds he sits in on a local MD’s examination of Hathaway’s bohemian beauty Maggie. (We know Maggie is a bohemian because we see her making wacky art, wearing paint-spattered overalls, smoking weed, walking about barefoot and listening to Liz Phair. Not all at once, mind you; that would be too obvious.)
And just as Jamie gets lucky at love, he gets even luckier at work, as Pfizer releases — or, more appropriately, unleashes — its new erectile dysfunction drug, Viagra. Jamie is suddenly the Candyman, bestowing blue pills and firmer fortunes upon all in his gaze. Maggie is also dealing with her Parkinson’s, a degenerative disease harder — and less immediately profitable — for the American medical-industrial establishment to take on.
There has been Oscar buzz for Hathaway’s work as Maggie, as the character is doomed, sassy and more than willing to take her clothes off. (A cynic will suggest that the film’s nudity is deliberately weighed as a provocative awards-worthy bit of “bravery,” but it’s also nice to see a film about sex and love that doesn’t rely on artfully shy camera angles and the traditional L-shaped sheet configuration where the gentleman in a set of lovers is covered waist-down by the linens and the lady is mysteriously covered, by the same sheet, starting somewhere around the collarbone.) But while Hathaway’s not exactly delivering Oscar-caliber work here, she is at the very least good, and occasionally excellent. Gyllenhaal’s charm and enthusiasm help a lot, especially in the early, breezy scenes before the whole film puts on a dour, sour expression of gloom and suffering for its own sake and then veers off into wacky slapstick in the final act before the big-feelings finish.
The relationship material here is good — frank and blunt and well-stated — but it is so good I found myself watching a climactic scene with Gyllenhaal and Hathaway talking in a parking lot and sincerely wishing they could be in a relationship film that didn’t have the convenient, cliché motor of tragic illness driving it. Josh Gad comes in as Gyllenhaal’s comedy-relief nerd brother, but his scenes are, for lack of a better word, excruciating — low jokes that burn up screen time that could be used for something, anything else.
But there are laughs here, and there are more than a few sincere and insightful discussions of love and its consequences. Then, though, the film will wind up going on some lengthy tangent away from all that and make you wish that Zwick and his stars could be telling one story instead of the five, or six, they have going on. “Love and Other Drugs” is intended as the cinematic equivalent of a pill-pusher’s feel-good prescription — easy to swallow, full of happy feelings and designed to fill you with a warm glow that ideally drowns out the unintended side effects. If everyone involved had thought less like a pharmaceuticals pitchman and more like a surgeon — calmly and swiftly cutting away dead tissue in the name of strength and health — then the movie would feel less like a frustrating near-miss and more like the exceptional film it’s trying too hard to be.
“Splayed out on the screen in pixelated, glimmering, hollow 3-D, Tim Burton‘s “Alice in Wonderland” is “inspired” by Lewis Carroll’s 1865 “Alice in Wonderland” and 1872 “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.” The phrase “inspired” is in quotes above because, bluntly, there’s not a moment of true inspiration in the entire film, just a series of moments demonstrating that Burton, more and more, has become a director content to use his tools as crutches. “Alice in Wonderland” follows Alice (Mia Wasikowska, rendered blank and bland by the script) as she returns to Wonderland and its characters, now a fully-grown woman. This time when Alice tumbles down the rabbit hole, it’s because she’s fleeing a dreary arranged marriage to a dreary man.
And once in Wonderland, Alice becomes the ultimate Tim Burton protagonist, which is to say that she wanders through a meticulously-designed fantasyland doing very little, meeting fantastic characters much more interesting than she is. Alice has only cloudy memories of her previous visits to Wonderland, and meets at every turn her old friends like Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas), the White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) and the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp, looking like the headliner in a hypothetical acid trip by the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen). Alice, we and she are told, is the only person who can defeat the Jabberwock and free “Underland” (apparently, Alice misheard it all those years ago, an empty fillip that adds nothing) from the tyranny of the petty, cruel Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).
But Linda Woolverton’s screenplay doesn’t give us any reasons for this, moving between expensive and lead-footed set-pieces and unfunny, ostensibly whimsical wordplay before culminating with Alice clad in battle armor bearing the Vorpal sword to defeat the Jabberwock. This is exciting if you collect action figures, or wonder what Joan of Arc would look like given a makeover suitable for the racks at Hot Topic. It is not in any way thrilling if you are interested in character, motivation, coherent storytelling or anything other than Burton’s high-tech, high-cost puppet show, in which he jams his clumsy hands up into various literary figures and has them say what he likes before tossing them aside. The unanswered questions are many, and grow with each passing second (Why is Alice the savior? Why is the White Queen [Anne Hathaway] better than the Red?) and we are not given answers, merely spectacle.”