Movie Review: Finding Neverland
Topic: Film & TV
I saw Finding Neverland last weekend, in my quest to see more of the Oscar nominees before this Sunday's ceremony. This movie is up for seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor.
J.M. "James" Barrie (Johnny Depp) and his wife Mary (Radha Mitchell) are plodding through a marriage completely lacking in intimacy. (I won't use the word "loveless," because I don't think that's accurate.) They have no children. Barrie's latest play has also just opened, and is a failure James feels creative frustration, but Mary laments the perceived loss of prestige that comes with his failure.
Barrie spends his days walking and writing in the local park, and there, he meets the four Davies boys and their widowed mother Sylvia (Kate Winslet). He strikes up a friendship with all of them, particularly Peter, the most cynical of the boys, who seems to have grown up too fast. And James and Sylvia become very close friends, never acting beyond the platonic, in spite of their clearly growing love for each other.
Of course, the local gossips overlook the "platonic" aspect, and London starts to buzz about James and Sylvia. Mary is distressed over the time James chooses to spend with Sylvia rather than helping Mary advance in the proper social circles. Sylvia's mother (Julie Christie) is aghast at her daughter's impropriety, and forbids her from seeing James. In the meantime, James keeps working, ignoring what everyone is saying; he is putting together ideas that will become Peter Pan, as a sort of gift to the boys to encourage them to stay imaginative and young.
Oh, and Sylvia coughs in Act One. You can guess where this is going.
So it's a bit of a tearjerker, for the less cynical. It's a celebration of the surrender to whimsy that brought pleasure to the Davies boys, to Sylvia, and to James and to countless admirers of Peter Pan since.
The production values contribute to the moral of the story in a very direct way. Rather than striving for photorealism at all times, it occasionally veers into the realm of stage production, with painted sets and obvious fakery. These visual diversions support the fantastical moments of imagination that are clearly coming from Barrie's imagination. I liked these tangents, and thought they unified the background and the theme of the story well. Some of those moments reminded me of last year's movie Big Fish.
The acting was pretty good, across the board I think the weak link was actually Johnny Depp, who at times seemed to be acting in the grand sense of the word. Julie Christie was great! She should get more and better roles, IMHO. Kate Winslet has become dependable, and she has a strong mother-protector vibe going on here.
I don't think this movie was trying to be a biopic in the same way that "Ray" and "The Aviator" were. It seems like it was more inspired by true events than a completely accurate recounting of them.
This would be a great family movie, although it's a little stressful at times. Kids will enjoy the imaginative diversions. I liked it, and give it 3.50 stars out of 4.00.
Oddly, even though I liked this movie, I don't feel the need to see it again it's not one of those movies that really sticks with you, like Million Dollar Baby. Perhaps it's because I'm just too cynical. I'm pleased with its Oscar nominations but wouldn't pick it to win anything but maybe Best Costume Design or Best Art Direction.
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