David McGee (Play: The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee)
Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Radha Mithcell, Dustin Hoffman, Freddie Highmore, Joe Prospero, Nick Roud, Luke Spill
PG (For mild thematic elements and brief language)
A world of undying passion and limitless possibilities where no one ever grows up. That’s the land Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie sought and found in the heart of a little boy.
Based on the real life characters in the life of Sir James Matthew Barrie (Johnny Depp), Finding Neverland explores the relationship between Barrie, his wife, a widow, her four children and her mother. A failed playwright, Barrie was constantly trying to work on his next play but from the reception at his last performance, even his sponsor Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman) wasn’t sure he could accomplish a success.
Working on ideas in the park, he comes across the Llewelyn Davies boys Peter, Jack, George and Michael. Peter (Freddie Highmore) is the only one who appears despondent after the recent death of their father. J.M. sets to work trying to win over the boy and his brothers.
The film travels through Barrie’s attempts to give the kids a father, simultaneously enrapturing their mother Sylvia (Kate Winslet). His wife Mary (Radha Mitchell) sees James’ constant attendance to another family as a nail driving slowly into the coffin of their marriage. Meanwhile, Sylvia’s mother Emma (Julie Christie) sees the same progression and goes to great lengths to force Barrie out of their lives.
Depp’s performance is laid back compared to his previous performances. It’s easy to see his work in From Hell and Sleepy Hollow in this performance. There’s also a little Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s not a stretch for his range but it suits the film’s purpose entirely.
Director Marc Forster’s casting choices could not be better. Winslet and Christie are capable of staying abreast of Depp’s considerable talent. It’s this kind of chemistry that makes Depp such an amazing performer, even when it is one such as this. Christie gives the film’s finest performance as the shrewd, heart-of-stone matriarch who must balance her daughter’s health and grandchildren’s happiness with the social climate of their time.
Barrie tells tales to the children, playing with them in fantasy settings. The film’s shining moments appear when the scene shifts from reality into the far-away lands the author creates. The screenplay by David Magee gives the audience everything it needs to understand these characters while credibly establishing points of transition.
The film suffers none from its technical aspects. The sets and costumes are perfectly entertaining and the music is beautiful throughout. If Finding Neverland has a fault, it’s the performances of the young actors. Youth does not allow for a broad range and Highmore does quite a bit with his limited range but never achieves the brilliance of his contemporaries. Because Peter is the main impetus for Barrie’s work, Highmore’s acting is crucial and ultimately disappointing. The other kids are properly caricatured.
Finding Neverland is the kind of film that won’t appeal to everyone. The film’s about knowing where your inner child is and letting it out to explore great worlds of adventure. It’s a fine feature that allows the audience to feel what it’s like to be a kid again.
February 28, 2005