- Marc Forster
- Reviewed by
- José Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Monday, February 21, 2005
The movie chronicles the life of playwright J.M Barrie (Johnny Depp) as his latest play just bombed and is looking for inspiration to write his next one. And he finds it all right, when he meets Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet), a widow with four boys, one of which, reluctant Peter (Freddie Highmore), forms the strongest bond with him. Complications ensue as Barrie’s wife Marie Ansell (Radha Mitchell) starts feeling more jealous and unhappier by the minute, and as Sylvia’s mother (Julie Christie) interferes with the boys’ relationship with Barrie. And thus is born Peter Pan.
Based on Allan Knee’s play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” and carefully translated to the screen by David Magee, Finding Neverland is an impressive achievement. When realizing what the movie is about you might feel induced to snort, and I don’t blame you. It does sound boring. But believe me, it is anything but that. Using an imaginative approach and creating characters that are memorable beyond words, the movie manages to become something of a rarity: it is one from the heart.
When it all starts, there’s a legend that says that what we’re about to see is “inspired by a true story”. Those words are carefully chosen. Many liberties were taken to deter this story from fact to fiction. Small details such as the fact that there weren’t four, but five Llewelyn Davies children, or that Sylvia’s husband was actually alive and kicking when this story took place (although there was nothing negative about it, Barrie and him actually became great friends) were changed for dramatic purposes. And you know what? Normally I would care, but this movie is a fantasy from frame one. It is not meant to be a by-the-book biopic, but rather an inspiring story filled with magic.
Still, some rather disturbing aspects are superficially touched upon in the movie. At one point Barrie is questioned about his relationship with the children. A romance is also rumored to take place between him and Sylvia. And it was said that Barrie spent years without ever even touching his wife, thus the separate rooms. That leads to a wonderful scene in which Barrie kisses Marie and it’s more important to her than it seems at first sight. So yes, director Marc Forster does address the issues, but he actually has a different agenda and it works as wonders.
That said, the movie is just so amazing. I cried like I had not done it in a long while, and I’m not babbling, that’s actually true. It is sentimental without being corny. It is magical without being unrealistic. And it develops some relationships so handsomely that you fall in love with the characters. Barrie is a child trapped in the body of an adult, and that’s something no one except a single family understands. At one point the reasons from this behavior are somewhat treated, having to do with Barrie’s own childhood. But truth is, he’s just a man who hasn’t let his inner child disappear. And it is with that innocence and playfulness that he changed this family’s lives, while also creating one of the most famous plays ever written.
Johnny Depp, one of the few actors on Earth whose movies I’d watch without even caring what they’re about, is fantastic here. He doesn’t have a big show-off scene, but that’s exactly what’s so wonderful. He’s constrained and believable and underplays Barrie in a completely compelling and charismatic way. He’s perfect. And so is Kate Winslet, who also delivers a phenomenal performance. Young Freddie Highmore is the real revelation though, holding his own in scenes against these talented performers as if he were born for it. Truly amazing. Julie Christie, Dustin Hoffman and Radha Mitchell all do excellent jobs.
And last but not least, there’s the wonderful score by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek and the terrific production design of Gemma Jackson.
A triumph with a beautiful message!
“Children should never be put to bed, for they only wake up a day older.”
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Other reviews of Finding Neverland (2004): Groucho