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Finding Neverland /

Rated: PG

Starring: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Radha Mitchell, Dustin Hoffman

Directed by: Mark Forster

Produced by: Nellie Bellflower, Richard N. Gladstein
Written by: David Magee
Distributor: Miramax Films

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Johnny Depp and Freddie Highmore in Miramax Films' Finding Neverland
Johnny Depp and Freddie Highmore in Miramax Films' Finding Neverland
Johnny Depp and Dustin Hoffman in Miramax Films' Finding Neverland
Kate Winslet and Johnny Depp in Miramax Films' Finding Neverland

     The mind can be a tool or a weapon, depending on its bearer and their motives, of course. The wild ideas inside of the head of J.M. Barrie, the author of the beloved play Peter Pan, which has spawned novels and films over nearly the last century, were a bit of both. Finding Neverland, a biopic which enchants with its own sort of whimsical, everyday depiction of Barrie, shows both sides of the manís imagination. He was not highly thought of before writing his masterwork, mostly because his strange ideas laid the title of a public eccentric upon his shoulders. The film does not question the fact that Barrie was an entirely good man, but it also never ignores the publicís bitter reaction towards him. This all goes without saying that, once Peter Pan came out, his opposition was shown a world of speechless glory which allowed them to put their objections aside.

     Barrie, who is expertly portrayed by Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland, once lived in the company of a prim and proper wife, who he was mostly indifferent to. Writing plays that were produced by Charles Frohman, he was confined to a life of conventions. This is not to say that his mind didnít have higher aspirations, which were screaming to leave the jail-cell of his skull. Finding Neverland takes off right after Barrie presents a critically denounced drama, when he finds himself sitting on a bench in the local park, writing in his journal. There, he meets family of a widower, comprised of Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies (an elegant Kate Winslet) and her four boys, Peter (Freddie Highmore), Jack (Joe Prospero), George (Nick Roud), and Michael (Luke Spill). This is when those higher aspirations decided that they would release themselves into everyday life.

     At this point in time, the five Llewelyn-Davieses are still coping with the loss of their cherished father unit, as Sylvia is without work and the boys without anyone older to identify with. Peter, in particular, is struggling and is in a bit of a state of brutal denial about death and misery. The young and talented Highmore captures the characterís glumness with perfection, allowing Deppís Barrie to instantly develop a warm sympathy for him, when they first meet. He does the same with the rest of the family. Bored by his own real life but forever intrigued by his thoughts, Barrie is able to befriend the boys by simply understanding their ambitions. He plays with them and helps them through a tough chapter in their life, amusing himself along the way.

     Deppís first encounter with Peter and his brothers sets the tone for their entire relationship. Barrie is first acquainted with the children, and is drawn to their mystical, pretend game, in which they operate a prison. Sylvia steps into the picture a few minutes later; she is not his motivation in associating with him. She is a woman who later clicks with Barrie, but adultery is not on his wish list. As frustratingly constraining as his wife is, he does not originally have romantic urges for Sylvia. Once his wife left him after he bonded so heavily with a family other than his own, The Real Barrie may have thought about creating something more than a tight, meaningful bond of friendship and partnership with Sylvia, but thatís not an idea of much interest to me. In Finding Neverland Barrie develops an attachment for the Llewelyn-Davieses that is beautifully spoken of in its narrative. When Sylviaís fateful illness, which had every reason to come off as overly schmaltzy in the movie, is fully discovered of, viewers will be affected, rather than rolling their eyes. The same could be said of all of the rest of the plotís several happenings.

     The imaginative vision of Barrieís life is not overly dramatized in Finding Neverland. In truth, he was just an average guy that was observant of his surroundings and appreciated their wonder. Peter Llewelyn-Davies and his family inspired the playwright to pen Peter Pan, and through his own experiences with them, Barrie communicated, magically, with his audience. The fairly ordinary, if imaginative, events, which they share together in the movie, will be enough to enchant all viewers, regardless of their subtlety. Finding Neverland is definitive proof that a glamorized biopic does not need expensive visuals and a booming musical score, in order to be a spectacle.

     The fact that many assumed Barrie to be a pedophile because of his closeness with the young Llewelyn-Davieses definitely worked against him and was one of the many negative effects of his dreamy ideas. But, Finding Neverland is not troubled by such beliefs; it merely lets vision be vision and gracefully flows, never overstaying its welcome.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (11.28.2004)


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