Erin Castleton (Hope Davis) was walking home from the station one afternoon when she noticed her boyfriend Sean (Philip Seymour Hoffman) was loading up his car outside the apartment they shared. He didn't mean to still be here when she was, and pushes a videocassette into her arms as well as his cat and tells her to watch the tape for the reasons he is leaving her. Erin is dumbfounded as he babbles, half hearing his excuses and half letting the situation sink in, and before she knows it he has zoomed off to some environmental activist protest that is more important to him than his relationship. But maybe this is a blessing in disguise, for now Erin has time to think over her place in the world, with or without romance...
Although a modest indie, Next Stop Wonderland had high hopes pinned upon it after it was bought by its distributor for many times the amount of budget it cost, whereupon it was released and promptly sank without trace. Well, almost, it wasn't any kind of hit, but a few people saw it and were sufficiently charmed, though the truth of the matter was its thunder was well and truly stolen by the not dissimilar Sliding Doors, the Gwyneth Paltrow success which also took as its theme romantic fate and how the right person for you may or may not be the person you cross paths with. That film adopted a parallel universe method, but this eschewed any trickery and traced its heroine to a predictable denouement.
So if you could tell from the beginning that the conventions of romcoms were going to be appeased in the final five minutes, what was the point in watching the rest of the movie? Director Brad Anderson, here penning the script with actor Lyn Vaus, made sure to make Erin interesting, perhaps more interesting than the suitor she should, according to movie fate, meet up with but is finding them like ships that pass in the night, always in the right place but never stumbling on one another at the right time. That Mister Right is Alan Monteiro (the considerably less famous than his co-star Alan Gelfant), a marine biologist who in the story's clunkiest subplot has to pay back a debt by sabotaging the aquarium he works at, which is planning an extension on a contested site.
The chief issue with this is that Erin quickly begins to accept her lot as a singleton no matter how much those around her are trying to push her into a new relationship, and before long you are seeing she has a point. Her mother (Holland Taylor) is obsessed with matching her daughter up with someone appropriate (in her opinion) and so an extended series of skits sees Erin struggling with the dating service scene. Every man she meets through this is decidedly wrong for her, mostly because she is not particularly interested in going through with the experience once again, not so soon after being dumped, and besides these men are desperate one and all, almost all bringing up a meme of a misattributed quote that she continually has to correct.
If only she could find someone who knows it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said "Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" and she might be on the right track, as meanwhile Alan has to wrestle with the dilemma of a student (Cara Buono) who has designs on him purely because she thinks he can improve her grades, fair enough, and the gangster (Victor Argo) who he owes money to demanding he kill the aquarium's beloved puffer fish to stop the public flocking to the establishment, which is rather silly, if distinctive. Before long if you have no patience watching ninety minutes of near misses then you may be rolling your eyes at Next Stop Wonderland and grumbling "Get on with it!", but Davis used her accustomed, mournful screen demeanour to craft a character who was intriguing enough to keep you watching her when there was the chance the solitary existence could be the one she chose. Although the script wasn't brave enough for that radical ending, so what you finished up with was nice, but threatened to be more captivating than it was. Music by Claudio Ragazzi.
American writer and director who made the comedies Next Stop Wonderland and Happy Accidents, before scoring a cult hit in 2001 with the horror Session 9. The similarly spooky The Machinist and solid Hitchcockian thriller Transsiberian followed before television took up most of his time.