Alex In Wonderland

After the wife-swapping comedy-drama Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice captured the cultural zeitgeist and catapulted him to the A-list, director Paul Mazursky used the leverage he’d accrued to do what any self-respecting show-business narcissist would do: He made a movie about himself. Or rather, he made a movie about a suspiciously Paul Mazursky-like filmmaker contemplating his options and luxuriating in ennui immediately before the release of a Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice-like smash. Mazurksky flaunts his influences in Alex In Wonderland; if the title weren’t enough, Federico Fellini pops up about a half hour in (playing himself) to look confused and lend his stamp to Mazursky’s unmistakably Fellini-esque shenanigans.

Donald Sutherland stars as the Mazursky surrogate, a hip filmmaker so hot that executives agree with whatever he has to say before he’s even done saying it. Sutherland has carte blanche to let his imagination run wild on his next film, but he can’t seem to figure out what he wants to say or how he wants to say it. Alex In Wonderland is content simply to lope behind Sutherland as he bickers politely with wife Ellen Burstyn, hangs out with old friends, and segues in and out of elaborate dream sequences where he dances with naked black people and confronts his mother’s appearance in a Fellini film. 

Alex In Wonderland is at its best when it’s simply observing life among the young, hip, and creative in late-’60s show-business or riffing on cinema’s past, domestic and international. Mazursky is more accomplished at ripping off the French New Wave (represented by Jeanne Moreau’s peculiar singing cameo as herself) than Fellini, whose innovations had devolved into art-house clichés well before Alex In Wonderland began shooting. Alex In Wonderland exists largely in Sutherland’s mind; his endlessly expressive eyes carry the emotion of the film. Impish and alive with playful pleasure during comic sequences, they’re clouded with the weight of the world during more introspective scenes. Mazursky’s script is hit or miss, but he lucked out in landing an actor who can command the screen without saying a word. Studios, audiences, and critics may have expected a major statement after Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Instead, Mazursky delivered a pleasant shrug of a movie, an affable afterthought. 

Key Features: The trailer and, rare for Warner Archive, an audio commentary from Mazursky.

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