..

FINDING NEVERLAND

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars: 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
Studio: Miramax
Features:  See Review
Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: March 22, 2005

"Young boys should never be sent to bed.  They always wake up a day older.  Then before you know it, they're grown."

Film ****

Almost 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. 

 

It 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. 

 

I 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.

 

This 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.

 

Johnny 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. 

Freddie 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.

 

Dustin 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.

 

Video ****

 

The 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. 

Audio ****

 

The 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.  

Features ***1/2

 

The 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?

 

Summary :

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.

FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from freestats.com