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Finding Neverland discussion
#1
Here's my long ass review... what did you think?




Let’s get this out of the way: if you’re interested in some solid “Peter Pannage,” rent the recent live action adaptation from last year. It’s loaded with rousing action scenes, quirky and fascinating subtext and may be the definitive screen translation of J.M. Barrie’s classic play yet. But if you can’t find that exceptional film (which is comparable to Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS films as far as literary fantasy adaptations, believe it or not), or if you can’t find Disney’s original PETER PAN, or if you can’t find any of the televised productions of the PETER PAN play... well, you probably still wouldn’t need to see the feeble FINDING NEVERLAND.
FINDING NEVERLAND is the story of J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp), the Irish playwright made famous for “Peter Pan”, the story of a boy that never wanted to grow up. Handcuffed to marriage by wet blanket Mary (Radha Mitchell), Barrie nevertheless is struggling, at the film’s beginning, to put together something financially viable following a flop that had his primary investor Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman) frustrated. One day, seated in the park alone and being beautiful in a Depp kinda way, he bumps into a clan of movie-ready moppets, four young brothers who behave mischievously, distracting Barrie from his work. Instead of slapping these children for interrupting his work, like they deserve, he humors them, earning the positive attention of their widow mother, Sylvia (Kate Winslet).
It’s not long before Barrie finds himself inspired by these young whippersnappers, playing games with them, re-imagined for us as adventures in the wild west, on the high seas, visions accompanied by appropriately but still unnecessarily chintzy sets. Not once does he act amorously towards the mysteriously ill Sylvia, his intentions merely to explore his own childhood (apparently missing, according to a quick exchange that reveals childhood unhappiness, a chink in the saintly Barrie’s armor). It’s not long before the children serve as the inspiration for “Peter Pan”, possibly as a case of Barrie excising his demons of arrested development, something celebrated here, but perhaps not exactly psychologically healthy.
There are nods all over the film to Barrie’s future inspiration for “Pan” but no implication that the filmmakers really understood the thematic significance of Barrie’s play in the first place. Hey, there’s that massive dog! Hey, that boy’s named Peter! Look, Sylvia’s cranky mother (Julie Christie, THE VILLAIN in capital letters) hates fun like Captain Hook! But really, like the title surmises, Barrie is supposed to find his Neverland, but where is it? Should it be when he’s writing? Instead it’s presented in a series of half-hearted fantasy scenes featuring an unimaginatively shot playground of the absurd.
The film has no context, beginning and ending the story during Barrie’s middle age, never giving us an idea of why Barrie needs this Neverland, or why Barrie retreats from his boring wife when he picked her in the first place: when he’s rankled by her implied infidelity, it’s inconsistent to his own cavorting. Indeed, the idea of a man leaving his wife for four young boys who love roughhousing and playing games is portrayed as seemingly normal, kindly behavior. One cannot help seeing Barrie ignore the lovely Sylvia for the company of the rowdy brothers and not think of the opening bars to “Thriller” or “Bad” or “Billie Jean”... FINDING NEVERLAND, indeed.
The performances are uniformly a bore. Johnny Depp, sporting a bizarre Irish accent, is simply out of place amidst the British in the film, partly because of the affectation and also because he’s almost in every scene. He’s not bad, and his work is subtle, but it’s not among the better turns in an unforgettable filmography. Kate Winslet is also rather drab, as she and Depp mostly play second fiddle to the children, whom otherwise play it straight and are quite good when not needing a smack in the mouth. Dustin Hoffman gets some good lines but is wasted in a secondary role that could have been issued not to a legend bu perhaps a secondary character actor. And Julie Christie is terrible in a one-note role as the piece’s villainess, a domineering grandmother who demands the children drop their foolish games.
Perhaps the film’s most insulting idea is that Barrie’s work would have been enjoyed more if people stopped being fussy about quality. At one point, speaking of Barrie’s last flop, Frohman laments, “Critics made it important.” Barrie makes the verbal equation that essentially means play = play, while an audience peppered with laughing children prompts not a theatre-wide smacking but actual pleasure. Essentially, FINDING NEVERLAND tries to equate the rich thematic ideas in “Peter Pan” with a docile, childlike mentality, doing a disservice both to it’s audience and to the work of the man the film attempts to be honoring. For that, FINDING NEVERLAND is as phony as faerie dust.
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#2
J.M. Barrie was Scottish, not Irish.

I have a pass to a screening of this for tomorrow evening and am trying to decide if I want to go see it, because I also have an opportunity to see the new thriller Enduring Love at an opposing screening.

I hate when these things conflict, especially when I am interested in seeing both.
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#3
I was really thinking that Finding Neverland would emerge as an Oscar contender for Best Picture, but looking at the reviews that doesn't seem likely. Still want to see it, though.
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#4
It might still have a shot for best score...but probably not.
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#5
Well, I saw the film earlier this evening and while it was good, I highly doubt it will considered for a Best Picture nomination.

Johnny Depp seemed too wooden in this role. His Scottish accent wasn't all that great either. Kate Winslet was good, but this performance pales in comparison to her role in Eternal Sunshine....

Julie Christie did an admirable job as a wicked grandmother who tries to stop Barrie from courting her widowed daughter and entertaining her young grandsons. And Dustin Hoffman was quite humorous as the man who financed Barrie's plays (despite their frequent failures.)

But, the story itself and the performances by the young men playing the boys that J.M. Barrie befriends were fantastic... especially young Freddie Highmore (who is reteaming with Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

The film is intercut with dream sequences that fully visualize the excitement of the playtime between Barrie and the boys. It somewhat reminded me of Heavenly Creatures in that regard.

As it progressed, it got better and seeing pieces of the stage performance of Peter Pan was cool.

Overall, the film was enjoyable and told a rather interesting story.

7.4 out of 10
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