Finding Neverland
Starring:
Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Dustin Hoffman, Radha Mitchell
Directed By:
Marc Forster
Grade
A-

Finding Neverland is a fictional telling of how Scottish author James Mathew Barrie came to the inspiration that created his spectacular Peter Pan. Johnny Depp plays the role of the frustrated playwright who witnesses the poor reaction to a play he dislikes himself. In dire need of inspiration, he comes across Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Winslet) and her four boys. Barrie learns of the recent loss of the boys' father and begins to befriend the family, despite the disapproval of the boys' grandmother (Christie) and his own wife (Mitchell), along with the insinuations made by the public.

It's through the boys that he begins to piece together the bits and strings of his Peter Pan story. Because of their imagination and their willingness to believe in the fantastic just through their mind, Barrie is charged with a tale he must complete and have performed despite the fact that none of the cast get the tale and the theater owner (Dustin Hoffman) believes the story and production are sure to flop.

Depp is wonderful as Barrie - charming, enigmatic and all around fun to watch without the inclusion of high-end, overblown dramatics. Where Depp was over-the-top as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates, he's far more subdued, yet charming all the same. Winslet is wonderful as the proud, yet struggling mother of four who refuses to admit to herself that she's sick and dying until Barrie's influence instills strength in her boys forcing her to seek medical help. While Depp and Winslet are amazing, the boys really do a fantastic job. Freddie Highmore as Peter is a whirlwind of emotions, tired of being lied to about the health of his mother in the face of previous events, lashes out. Over the length of the film, he breaks his shell of seriousness to embrace his imagination and writing talent. I have to wonder why Highmore wasn't nominated for this role as he does wonders, outshining most of the top notch cast.

Sets and costuming find a balance in this tale. On one hand, we have dry timepiece costuming that effectively draws us into early 20th Century England. On the other hand, there are fantastical costumes, both imagined and from the play of Peter Pan, giving a surreal balance to the story. In fact, many of the set pieces from the play feel like they're just about to draw you into Barrie's fantastical world.

To be fair, Finding Neverland is not for everyone. Except for the facet of the story in which the boys must deal with death and their own struggling family, conflict is merely there as a garnish to the tale. Even with his own marriage failing and his wife off with another man, Barrie's own events are just a roadbump in his efforts to help the Llewelyn Davies family and get Peter Pan performed.

For those who love Johnny Depp or are fans of Peter Pan, this offering is an enjoyable film well worth the time to watch. Finding Neverland finds a charming middleground between imagination and the real world, lending its heart towards the lives of the children who the original story is intended for.

- - Kinderfeld

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