British director Philip Saville's first feature, SHADEY, dealt in part with its title character's desire for a sex change and his struggle with society to be who really is. In WONDERLAND, Saville works from a script by LETTER TO BREZHNEV writer Fred Clarke, examining the constraints and
societal pressures that prevent homosexuals from freely expressing their lifestyle. The film focuses on the platonic friendship between two gay teenagers in Liverpool: Forsyth, a street-smart survivor, and Charles, who is browbeaten by his homophobic father but understood by his mother. She
watches movies endlessly on her VCR and claims to have been auditioned by John Schlesinger for a role in DARLING. Forsyth persuades Charles to run away, and their first stop is a shimmering gay disco called the Fruit Machine. There they witness the after-hours murder of Coltrane, the burly
transvestite who runs the club and who has refused to knuckle under to local gangsters. His knife-wielding martial-arts murderer spots the boys and follows them to Brighton, where they are the guests of a famous but aging opera singer whose post-farewell-performance party they have happened upon.
In Brighton the opera singer seduces Forsyth, while Charles visits Wonderland, a Sea World-style attraction where he is horrified to see how inhumanely the show's star performer, a dolphin, is treated. Charles breaks into Wonderland at night and, stripping off his clothes, does a joyous underwater
ballet with the dolphin, which metamorphoses into a handsome young man about whom Charles has fantasized. His idyllic interlude is spoiled by the kung-fu killer, who stabs Charles before Forsyth, arriving not quite in the nick of time, retaliates. While Charles lies dying, Forsyth, aided by an
animal rights activist, spirits away the dolphin and sets it free in the ocean.
Part thriller, part TURTLE DIARY, and part MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE, WONDERLAND makes clear the symbolic connection between the oppression of the dolphin and that of gays. Unfortunately, despite his noble aspirations director Saville has failed to create a particularly involving film. There are, to
be sure, some interesting moments--most notably Charles and the dolphin's beautifully shot and choreographed midnight swim. There are also relatively strong performances by the young leads--Emile Charles, who conveys a disarming naivete, and Tony Forsyth--and an especially good one from Robbie
Coltrane as the transvestite proprietor of the Fruit Machine. However, Saville doesn't develop his characters or the chemistry between them enough to make his young protagonists' concerns compelling in their own right. In striving to make a statement, he has applied his symbolism with a very heavy
hand indeed. The film's thriller element is also sabotaged by Saville's failure to maintain a mood of suspense when it is most necessary, and his pacing in general is uneven. Saville is to be credited with taking on a sensitive subject and approaching it so earnestly, but it's unfortunate that he
wasn't able to make a more interesting and coherent movie. Songs include "(We Ain't Ever Gonna Be) Respectable" (Stock, Aitken, Waterman, performed by Mel & Kim), "You Think You're a Man" (Deane, Miller), "I'm So Beautiful" (Stock, Aitken, Waterman, performed by Divine), "Fruit Machine" (Stock,
Aitken, Waterman, performed by Paul Lekakis), "Male Stripper" (Paul Zone, performed by Zone), "Cocoon" (performed by Time Rider), "Move Closer" (Nelson, performed by Sandy Stevens), and "Summertime Blues" (Cochran, Capehart).
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- Released: 1988
- Rating: NR
- Review: British director Philip Saville's first feature, SHADEY, dealt in part with its title character's desire for a sex change and his struggle with society to be who really is. In WONDERLAND, Saville works from a script by LETTER TO BREZHNEV writer Fred Clarke… (more)