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Finding Neverland (Marc Forster)

Finding Neverland

Finding Neverland (2004, Marc Forster)

Johnny Depp is incapable of a bad performance, and thankfully, he’s starting to get the accolades he deserves. In a year that includes Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, he is also unlikely to win an Oscar for the second year in a row, but he’s still stellar as usual.

Finding Neverland is the story of J.M. Barrie (Depp), the playwright behind Peter Pan. Barrie stumbles upon the Llewelyn Davies family, four boys and their widowed mother, Sylvia (Kate Winslet, fresh off the unbelievable Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), in a park, and befriends them as a refuge from harsh critics and a social-climbing wife (Radha Mitchell). The boys, particularly Peter (Freddie Highmore, already being trumpeted as the next big child actor), are the inspiration behind the classic play, but more importantly, they awaken Barrie’s real nature.

Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet are coming off two of the performances of their lives, and are capable of the subtlety that the Victorian setting demands. Freddie Highmore, as Peter Llewelyn Davies the mirror for Barrie’s character, so impressed Depp that he had him cast as Charlie in the upcoming Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and he turns in a mature performance that will have people calling him an “old soul.” Julie Christie and Dustin Hoffman have smaller, mostly unremarkable roles as the people trying to bring Barrie back to reality.

History hints that this “true story” was not as nice as Forster’s film would have us believe, but life rarely is, and sometimes it’s better to “just believe,” as Barrie teaches the Llewelyn Davies boys. While the movie’s flights of fancy pull us all into Neverland, it also shows the harsh nature of the world and jerks more than a few tears. The cynical-minded will see hints of Michael Jackson in Depp’s man-child character, and the romantics will wish for more in the relationship between Sylvia and Barrie, but the rest of us can enjoy the film for what it is, much as Barrie’s audience learned to love Peter Pan.


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