Finding Neverland (2004) / Drama
MPAA Rated: PG for mild language
Running Time: 106 min.
Cast: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Radha Mitchell, Freddie Highmore, Dustin Hoffman, Nick Roud, Joe Prospero, Kelly Macdonald, Luke Spill, Kate Maberly, Mackenzie Crook
Director: Marc Forster
Screenplay: David Magee (based on the play. "The Man Who Was Peter Pan", by Allan Knee)
Review published November 8, 2004
A heavily sentimental drama, which generally means that it will deeply affect some while missing other viewers altogether, Finding Neverland seeks to tell the tale of what inspired playwright J.M. Barrie to pen "Peter Pan". Many parallels exist between the two stories, the real world of Barrie (although mostly fictionalized here) and the magical one he created in the form of his play. In many ways, Barrie is Peter personified, showing a group of children that wonderful things can happen if they only use their imagination, and through the eyes of the young boys he inspires, so too does he begin to believe himself.
Johnny Depp (Secret Window, Once Upon a Time in Mexico) gets the starring role of Barrie, who buries himself in his attempt to write a successful play, to the detriment of his marriage and home life, which sees him gone for lengthy periods and in the rare time he is home, he's diligently writing the next work. While visiting a nearby park, Barrie befriends a young widow, Sylvia Davies (Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and her four sons, and shortly after, he bonds with the boys to the point where he spends most of his free time looking after them.
As noble as Barrie's intentions are, he draws the scorn of Sylvia's mother-in-law (Julie Christie, Doctor Zhivago), who sees him as meddling in her family and driving potential suitors away. Barrie's wife (Radha Mitchell, Pitch Black) begins to feel lonely with his absence, and pleading with him to spend more time at home becomes a nightly occurrence. The townsfolk begin to talk, wondering why this married man is spending so much time with the lonely widow, and worse, they question his intentions for spending so much time with the young boys.
As he inspires the boys to use their minds to create fantasy worlds only limited by their imaginations, he begins to construct his masterwork, "Peter Pan", inspired by his real-life relationships with the boys and their home life.
Bolstered by another admirable performance by Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland fits into the genre of tales of young boys whose lives are affected for the better through the unconventional tutelage of an older teacher, who drives them to be the best they can be, even through the difficult moments in life. It's the kind of movie that filmmaker Terry GIlliam has spent a good deal of his career making, but the scope of Marc Forster's (Monster's Ball) direction never leaps as stridently into fantasy, except for a few poignant moments.
It's a nice tale, occasionally a bit heavy on emotionalized nostalgia, but thankfully never encroaches into the area of manipulative tear-jerking. The cast of actors is solid across the board, with some impressive casting in the roles of the young boys. However, it is Depp's subdued performance that anchors the film into something interesting, always keeping the mysteries of his thoughts hidden, and making this otherwise formulaic film have at least the semblance of depth.
As previously mentioned, how much all of this you find inspiring greatly depends on how much you're willing to give in the the magic of the moment, so cynics and scrooges will probably be a bit off-put by the often syrupy dialogue and attempts to pull heartstrings. Finding Neverland isn't for everyone, but is recommended for all fans of Barrie's "Peter Pan", inspirational dramas, Johnny Depp, and movies driven by imagination and a touch of sentimentality.
©2004 Vince Leo