- Marc Forster
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Tuesday, February 15, 2005
The story, based on Allan Knee’s play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan”, is not exactly faithful to actual facts, but it comes pretty close. It tells of playwright J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp), whose theatrical flops resulted as boring to the audience as his own life to himself, including his marriage to Mary Ansell (Radha Mitchell). He was a professional, a serious grown-up, a boring person, and all this because that’s the way it should be. After writing his latest flop, still under contract with theater owner Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman), he’s obliged to write another play, but he’s too bored to even think about it.
That is, until he meets the Llewelyn Davies family, comprised by widow Sylvia (Kate Winslet) and her four sons: George (Nick Roud), Jack (Joe Prospero), Michael (Luke Spill), and Peter (Freddie Highmore). James befriends this family in Kensington Gardens and reunites with them several times, there and in other places. In each boy Barrie finds something special, but young Peter is the one who fascinates him the most: The boy is hardened by his father’s dead, cautious of the naiveté of childhood, and unwilling to face that kind of pain again. The subject of children who can’t wait to grow up, and adults who would love to be kids again, becomes Barrie’s obsession.
J.M.’s friendship with this family seems unusual to some, who begin to talk about it in negative ways. Barrie is amazed how people don’t understand such pure friendship and look at it as either a liaison with Sylvia or a perversity towards the boys. None of it matters though: In the Llewelyn Davies James finally finds sanctuary, a perfect fantasy to explore and an example of innocence as he’s rarely known to exist in the world. This inspires him to write the play that would make him immortal: “Peter Pan”.
I just loved this movie. I cried from beginning to end for many reasons: First of all, the story was incredibly moving, with Barrie an exceptionally compassionate man and the children so very needy of a father’s figure. Secondly, for the outstanding way the film interprets the creative process, with awe-inspiring scenes like the one where the boys seem to fly out their window. And thirdly, for the sadness that lies within the apparent plot, the sadness of a lonely man, a misunderstood one, a man who must seek refugee in whichever escapism he can find, including a world of fantasy, including a place called Neverland. Truth is, Neverland is both a wonderful place and a frightening one, because for some people it’s the only place where they can evade reality. Barrie’s story is related to this kind of loneliness, and it’s as heartbreaking as it is compelling.
The very real story of the boys is what redeems this sad story though. Barrie is exhilarated about his friendship with them because he’s able to relive the short years of childhood innocence he lived. However, as serious things happen around the family, and the children are forced to grow up, mature, and face reality, Barrie realizes that’s the way life is, and it’s beautiful all the same. The most important subplot, involving Sylvia, doesn’t always work, but it’s the catalyst for some of the movie’s most intense scenes, and they do work fine.
Not everything about David Magee’s screenplay worked fine for me though. I loved most of it of course, but sometimes I felt it went too far. Sometimes I felt the use of Neverland as an example or metaphor of supernatural things, as spoken by the character of Barrie, was exaggerated. This pretty much ruined a very important scene towards the end between Depp and Highmore (which I forgive thanks to the latter, whose performance there is vibrant). It’s a small quibble and it probably comes from the play itself, but I still would’ve preferred some things to be subtler.
Director Marc Forster sure understands the importance of symbols and metaphors in a story like this. “Peter Pan” was born as an interactive play full of symbolism subject to various interpretations. The movie exists in a way that it becomes a story inside a story and also a story about life as a whole, not only a particular story. There are many scenes that interpret imagination and make it come to life, but there are also others, even more brilliant, that don’t go as far but still make reality bend in a seamless way, surpassing the thin line between reality and fiction. Those are perfect moments that some people might not notice, but are there, and mean something. Forster made sure they’d bring bliss to those who look closer.
The sumptuous film is realized in an atmosphere that suits it to perfection with every possible artistic aid around to make it even better. The photography by Roberto Schaefer, production design by Gemma Jackson, costumes by Alexandra Byrne and Mary Kelly, and all the meticulous work of the sort, is flawless. Everything accompanied by an exquisite, unforgettable Jan A.P. Kaczmarek music score. Just listening to these notes made me shiver.
And if everything else wasn’t so good, the performances are on top of it all. Johnny Depp might not deliver an over-the-top performance or a bizarre one at all, but he’s absolutely brilliant as this saddened, intelligent man. Topping him is young Highmore, whose quiet solemnity makes him continuously enigmatic and profound. The rest of the cast does a very good job as well, including Julie Christie as Sylvia’s mother.
Highly recommendable, one of 2004’s best.
“But I’m not Peter Pan. He is.”
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Other reviews of Finding Neverland (2004): Morris