Monday, January 17, 2005

DEFINITELY FIND NEVERLAND

Thank God for Finding Neverland! After spending the last couple of months at the theater feeling mostly like a sewer inspector, here, at last, is a beautifully written, produced and acted movie, that leaves you better as a human being.

I admit I was slow to see the film because of the story details I had heard about it, and well, I just didn't trust Miramax to tell this kind of story. Basically, the story is based on the friendship (notice I am not putting that word in quotations) between J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, and a recently widowed woman and her four boys. I kept waiting for the film to get into hints of pedophilia, or else adultery, but while the film raises both things as nasty gossip whizzing around the protagonists, it is very clear that neither are predicable of the characters’ relationships. Instead, the film serves up a poignant story of a playwright whose work goes from bad to great, when he switches from writing for himself, to writing out of love to bring joy to others.

The ensemble here is very good, with Johnny Depp fleshing out Barrie's awkwardness, isolation and anguish, mostly without words -- but when he does speak, it is with a flawless Scottish accent. Kate Winslet, who always does well, also fills out a role that in one of the few flaws in the screenplay, is underwritten. Still, Winslet does a great job of convincing us that she cares about her sons, and Barrie, and that latter, not in a sexual way.

The actor who plays Peter - on whom Barrie bases his play - has been receiving lots of raves for his performance. He certainly is very, very cute, but - like the other children in the cast - I didn't find his acting as strong as other great child actors we have seen. His line of sight is off in several scenes, and I found his emotional movement jerky. It was telling to me that I cried over Winslet's anguish as opposed to his... But, ultimately, he is so cute, with big innocent eyes, that the impulse is to go with him.

There isn't a lot of movement in the story, although arguably, there is just as much as the writer needs to make his point. And the use of imagination sequences certainly goes a long way to covering the story's few beats.

But this is quibbling. Unlike Peter Pan, who just misplaces his shadow side, there is no shadow to Finding Neverland. It is a lovely, engaging story that hits many positive notes, all the time telling a story of isolation, marital estrangement, sickness and death. Underlying these details of the story is a great message about creativity - ie. that creativity as service/communication will have a compelling power and beauty about it.

While this isn't a children's film, there is nothing objectionable here, and much good. The Christians who were all tricked into making the dreadful Surviving Christmas a hit, should all be flocking to see Finding Neverland.

I do believe in Finding Neverland! I do! I do!

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