Review by Mark Wiechman
Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Radha Mitchell, Dustin Hoffman
Director: Marc Forster
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French and Spanish Dolby Surround and subtitles
Video: Color Widescreen 2.35:1 enhanced for 16x9 Televisions
Features: See Review
Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: March 22, 2005
boys should never be sent to bed. They
always wake up a day older. Then
before you know it, they're grown."
every year a great film or two gets nominated for Best Picture that everyone
knows won't win, and even though no one expects it to win, the nomination itself
spurs many people to see it. This
is hopefully the case with Finding Neverland, a truly beautiful film.
tells the story of Sir James Matthew Barrie, a successful playwright in a
heartless marriage, who befriends Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, a young widow with
four sons, one of whom is named Peter. The
boys recently lost their father and Peter is particularly difficult to handle.
James meets the boys by chance in the park, and he tries to entertain the
boys with his dog. This leads to
many hours with Sylvia and the boys. The
whole town assumes that James and Sylvia are lovers, but this is not the case.
There is nothing prurient about these activities, but we don't blame Mrs.
Barrie when she leaves James since all he does is write or spend time with
another woman and her sons.
have always enjoyed the stories behind the creation of great music, literature,
and art, especially when the genesis of a masterpiece is so murky or unlikely.
The unusual but loving relationship between Barrie and Davies and her
children is beautiful and honest and inspired the timeless story of Peter Pan,
a story both absurd and full of meaning. His own youth was devoid of love and
his marriage was cold and childless, but he took the real-life emotions of the
Davies family and created universal characters.
The emotions of everyone in the movie it are visibly restrained but we
can see through their desperate masks of English civility. The cinematography is lush and makes the English countryside
almost tangible, and although the plot is somewhat unsurprising, as a whole it
is both enchanting and believable as it moves effortlessly between real life and
the fantasies of the children and Barrie himself.
is the opposite of a Disney film. It
is based on true events, and includes real children inspiring meaningful fantasy
that inspires all ages. There is nothing contrived about their strong emotions,
yet they have to hide them in the classic English way, and the story does not
end happily. The Disney formula is
usually a fictional story with openly exposed emotions and a somewhat contrived,
fictional plot that always ends happily (Bambi excluded, of course.)
In a Disney film, the frustrated hero usually gets into trouble of their
own making and their friends help them get out of it.
In this film, tragedy strikes not once but twice and the children lean on
their fantasy to get them through the tough times as their adolescence ends all
too soon, the whole point Peter Pan himself knows all too well.
The Peter Pan story itself is shown but not in the usual way, and
it is fascinating and easy to see where Barrie drew his inspiration.
Depp has never been my favorite actor, but I was won over by his excellent
performance. He so often whispers
throughout the movie that when I saw it in the theatre, the women behind me
complained constantly about it. I wanted to tell them to hush---we are in England, after all.
Kate Winslet is one of the few actresses whose talent is equal to her
beauty, and she is ravishing as the widowed mother of four boys who attempts to
find the middle ground between her controlling mother, Barrie's fondness for her
and her sons, and her own desire for independence.
This is a role consistent with Winslet's other choices as a woman
struggling to find her own way in an atmosphere of conflicting expectations for
an independent minded woman. The
chemistry between them is such that we want them to be together, but their
relationship seems to stay celibate, even after Barrie's wife leaves him.
Highmore in the role of Peter Barrie is the real find in this movie.
He cries the bitterest tears over his father's death and his mother's
illness while melting everyone's hearts and inspires Barrie's attempts to
entertain the boys, which leads him to tell the immortal story of Neverland. I have always thought the story of Peter Pan itself to
be silly even for a children's tale, but the whole theme of refusing to grow up
and final invitation to return to Neverland is timeless.
The Indians and pirates are the props used to convey the overall message
of never growing old.
Hoffman portrays the theater owner Charles Frohman, who constantly complains
about expenses and yet believes enough in Barrie enough to try almost anything.
He seems like a businessman who wishes he were a creator. He plays the role low-key but is an important link between
Barrie's fantasies and the reality of business.
transfer is top-notch without any flaws I can detect even in the poor light of
the theatre. Another excellent
presentation from Miramax, which we have come to expect.
Oscar-winning score by Jan Kaczmarek shines through without overtaking the film.
In my opinion most of Depp's dialogue is quiet overall, though the mix is
perfect. He whispers, but you can
hear it all. I assume the dialogue
was done this way on purpose to reflect the quiet desperation of his life.
commentary by director Marc Forster, producer Richard Gladstein and writer David
Magee is very educational and somewhat self-congratulatory as most of them are
and is above average but pretty dry. The
deleted scenes with optional commentary is interesting because they point out
that Johnny Depp suggested politely that two of the scenes be cut and the
creators agreed. The featurettes "The Magic of Finding Neverland"
and "Creating Neverland" are a bit short but excellent.
The outtakes from the film are very humorous once you see the rather
serious movie itself. "On the
Red Carpet" from the film's Hollywood premiere is fun and includes more
commentary on the friendships that developed between the actors.
It is a real shame that there is no behind the scenes feature for the
Oscar-winning score, but composers are usually taken for granted, aren't they?
Fairy tales, no matter how whimsical, can be magical and inspiring in a world in which life is all too fragile, love is often not consummated, and you are never too old to dream. Finding Neverland proves that the story behind the story can be even more inspiring and is a story for all time in a move for all audiences.