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Worth A Look: 36.02%
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14 reviews, 102 user ratings

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Finding Neverland
[AllPosters.com] Buy posters from this movie
by Brad Wilber

"quietly winning"
4 stars

Director Marc Forster’s long-in-coming follow-up to MONSTER’S BALL, FINDING NEVERLAND tells the story of how Scottish-born playwright James Barrie (Johnny Depp) strikes up a friendship with young English widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) and her brood of boys, and how considerable time spent in the family’s company fuels Barrie’s writing of "Peter Pan." NEVERLAND is newly crowned by the National Board of Review as the Best Film of 2004, and the prize may jolt it onto a few more screens; it has suffered somewhat sparse distribution. But it’s definitely something you should seek out—swim upstream against the tide of everyone headed to spend Christmas with the Kranks, and you’ll be rewarded.

Most of us are jaded enough moviegoers that we don’t expect biopics to be by the numbers. We watch, we go home, and we check the Internet to see just how many of the facts were played fast and loose with. We let the film be fundamentally, rather than scrupulously, accurate, and savor compensating virtues in other aspects of the proceedings. NEVERLAND is no different. At the outset we are flashed the dreaded phrase “inspired by true events” and thus feel doubly forewarned that sweeping dramatic license lies ahead.

Barrie’s acquaintance with the Llewelyn Davies family began in 1898, and the events which wrap up the film actually took place around 1909, but FINDING NEVERLAND condenses the action to 1903-05, the time frame in which "Peter Pan" was germinating and premiering. Somewhere in the journey from life to stage to screen (David Magee’s script is based on a play by Allan Knee), Sylvia’s husband is prematurely killed off. Arthur Lewelyn Davies was actually very much in the picture during the span the movie is depicting and didn’t succumb to cancer until 1907; he and Barrie became close friends once the playwright overcame the husband’s understandable mistrust. The number of sons is averaged out to four—upon Barrie’s introduction to them there were three, but Sylvia and Arthur eventually had five total. And the initial meeting in Kensington Gardens did not involve Sylvia at all, as the movie suggests, but the family nurse, Nancy Hodgson, who became the “model” for Nana in the Peter Pan story. Barrie did not did meet Sylvia herself until later on. So, spare a thought for poor Arthur and Nancy and their banishment at the hands of Hollywood streamlining, but think like a screenwriter and it’s not too hard to see why Extra Injured Party and Expendable Domestic Staff didn’t make it to the party.

In the film, the encounter in the park happens as Barrie is sitting trying to assimilate London’s tepid reception of his latest premiere. In fact, he glimpses the Llewelyn Davies clan through the hole in his newspaper where his housemaid has whisked away an offending review. Barrie’s retired-actress wife Mary (Radha Mitchell) has seemed disinclined to extend any consolation as long as her social aspirations remain on course. So the fatherless boys’ ready affection presents itself at an opportune time, and Barrie relishes in particular the chance to make a project out of Peter (Freddie Highmore), whose literal mind and bruised spirit could surely benefit from initiation into the realm of whimsy. Hours of role playing and the blossoming of Barrie’s inner child leads to his creation of literature’s most famous “perpetual child,” and even though his theatrical backer Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman) is more than a little dubious about casting an actor as a St. Bernard and wiring children for flight, the play goes on to capture the imagination of the public. All the while, James and Sylvia settle into a fulfilling platonic companionship that raises eyebrows around town and incurs protest from Mary Barrie and from Sylvia’s mother, the aristocratic Emma du Maurier (Julie Christie).

If a film needs two leads that radiate charm and decency but also bring to bear qualities that keep a tight rein on sentiment, it could scarcely do better than Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet. However famous Depp is for portraying a collection of comic misfits, his mesmeric solemnity is what somehow unites all of those roles. Heart-tugging but understated gravity serves him well here playing a man for whom games were serious business. Depp’s interactions with the boys are especially nuanced. Even in the more frolicsome segments, there are no avuncular clichés, no cheap back-slapping joviality. (As a bonus, Depp’s Angus burr is softly but firmly in place, so that you don’t waste any time longing for subtitles on the one hand or counting lapses in the accent on the other.) Winslet’s range can encompass Sylvia’s forays into caprice and poignancy, too, but she always has a knack with a veddy bracing delivery and her acting choices invariably preserve dignity. There are no grand character arcs in this film, and neither James nor Sylvia has any really showy moments, but that’s why actors as consistently good as Depp and Winslet are so vital—the need is for a well-sustained glow instead of sparks.

Detractors of FINDING NEVERLAND chide it for being too tight-lipped for its own good—long on civility and short on catharsis. They feel cheated out of a degree of depth because some very adult issues—where the blame lies in the foundering of Barrie’s own marriage and whether he had impure designs on Sylvia or her boys—are given cursory treatment or skirted altogether. A critic here and there has suggested that Forster, handling a project with obvious Oscar pedigree, avoids making a complex statement in hopes that the film will glide onto the Academy’s radar on the strength of Depp’s and Winslet’s virtuosity alone. OK, so can I just say to these people, “Point taken,” and send them off to CLOSER, where I’m sure they can get plenty of scandal, betrayal, and scathing histrionics? (Or, if they really want to watch Marc Forster engage freely in psyche-pummeling, I’ll suggest they give MONSTER’S BALL another spin on the DVD player.)

I give credit to Forster for creating as multilayered a picture as he does, given the constraints he must have felt knowing that the premise would attract the younger set and that even many grownups come into an Edwardian period piece anticipating gentler content. The specters of Barrie’s dark-hued childhood, marital disillusionment, and thwarted sexuality are there, hovering in the plaintive exchanges between the major characters, for sophisticated viewers to ponder. But in the meantime, the kids have no intrusive pop psychology diverting their focus from the Llewelyn Davies boys, their education in the fanciful, and the genesis of Peter Pan.

The fact that there are no villains destined for comeuppance or epiphany also tends to make NEVERLAND suitably “adult,” in my mind. Sure, Madame du Maurier has one moment in the film where she brandishes a hooked umbrella handle and becomes the embodiment of a future digit-challenged Captain, so if some viewers need to make her into a Gorgon, they can. But mostly she’s just a woman who knits her brows over what kind of future this bizarre surrogacy offers her daughter and grandsons, and she remains wary till the end. Charles Frohman clearly expects Peter Pan to tank, but he’s no bad guy. (These roles are written as such generalized portraits of skepticism that I kept thinking any number of actors could have done them justice, but it has to be said that Christie and Hoffman offer luxurious levels of charisma). Even Mrs. Barrie is not written off as stone-cold; she gets a humanizing scene where she laments lost opportunities to be a fellow traveler on her husband’s quests for inspiration. Radha Mitchell made a stronger impression on me here than she did in PHONE BOOTH or MAN ON FIRE, meting out carefully measured wifely reproaches and presiding over the calcified stillness of the household Barrie has virtually abandoned.

The Bolger sisters were so rivetingly organic in IN AMERICA that they’ve forever set the bar way too high for other child actors, but the lads here hold their own, especially Highmore, who will take center stage when he teams with Depp again next year in the remake of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. Luke Spill as youngest son Michael fulfills the “Awww…” quotient and then some (yes, I clapped silently in my seat when Michael finally got his kite in the air!)

Forster has a deft touch with the fantasy sequences in NEVERLAND. As a backyard becomes the deck of a pirate ship or a frontier town, he moves seamlessly back and forth between imagined and actual settings as if tweaking a louvered blind that separates the two views. It’s too bad those episodes pretty much stop midway through, but the second half gives us the lavish opening night of the play and the lushly orchestrated lump-in-the-throat climax (listen for the rustle of Kleenex!). If you’re surprised to see Forster summon this kind of contrast to MONSTER’S BALL, keep in mind that the themes of the two movies are not dissimilar: two people who decide to pursue and maintain a connection to each other despite external forces that threaten to sever it. Forster returns to heavy dramatic roots in 2005 with STAY (Ryan Gosling, Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Bob Hoskins), which apparently jumps on the MEMENTO/21 GRAMS let’s-play-around-with-narrative-structure bandwagon.

FINDING NEVERLAND doesn’t quite reach a stratospheric emotional payoff, but have we really had one of those at a family film since E.T.? NEVERLAND is a quietly winning recipe of high production values, restraint in writing and acting, and celebration of the magic that happens when adults and children find common ground. In a fall season where I’ve gone to other movies and wished I could reclaim those lost hours (I do age, after all, unlike Peter), FINDING NEVERLAND left me more than satisfied.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10919&reviewer=395
originally posted: 12/08/04 20:13:22
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Leeds Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Leeds Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/18/09 Liberty Man Great story and Depp as he should be. Enough with the pirate already. 5 stars
10/05/09 Bryony An amazing film I cry everytime lol Kate & Johnny both did an AMAZING job I love it!!! 5 stars
12/11/08 charles surmion its so cool i want to try and try... 4 stars
9/25/08 Shaun Wallner Great story! 5 stars
5/08/08 Courtney This movie is corny, boring and has expected 'twists' 1 stars
2/17/08 SamanthaP Johnny and Kate Winslet were amazing as always, and it was super sad at the end. 5 stars
9/04/07 John Just amazing 5 stars
8/11/07 Tiffany Losco Boring, I didn't like it. 2 stars
5/16/07 mia It was a sad story that contains inspiring messages 5 stars
1/15/07 jeannie karlsen Looking at Johnny Depp was enough of a reward, plot was however, boring 4 stars
11/10/06 Bill Hi all 4 stars
9/07/06 Thomas Semesky FINDING NEVERLAND! Fine me a plot first. Boring!! 2 stars
7/13/06 EZ To bad there is no 0 stars rating 1 stars
6/11/06 Dave Webber I thought this was totally maudlin and manupulative, 2 stars
5/21/06 Diane P very charming, my daughter enjoyed it as well 4 stars
5/05/06 Ashley Hinz I don't like Johnny Depp, but I enjoyed this. 4 stars
2/09/06 Samantha A nice twist for adults on the classic story, while children might find it boring 4 stars
10/14/05 Yves Caraan I didnt enjoy watching 2 stars
10/11/05 Jennifer Free You would think that it was for kids, but they were totally bored, and so was I. 3 stars
9/19/05 Jonathon Holmes perfect filmmaking at its finest 5 stars
9/14/05 Koopy the Loopy I love Kate, but this was a little too boring 3 stars
9/13/05 ray mero Two of the boys he helped raise committed suicide...the movie is a sappy and demented. 1 stars
8/25/05 EZ Let's go make make the worst play ever while talking with the worst accent possilbe 1 stars
8/19/05 Sara B. Slow to get going, at times oddly NOT engaging. Still has charm for Depp fans. 4 stars
8/12/05 yuko brilliant actors and story 5 stars
7/26/05 Laura Lee Macleod Kinda boring...but Depp is a magnificent actor 3 stars
6/17/05 Andy Far better than the professional critics suggest. Switch off the analysis, let it happen 4 stars
6/16/05 DM Sappy in places but very well-acted. 4 stars
5/28/05 Jake Good film but not oscar worthy 4 stars
5/21/05 Cham Great acting, pretty moving, way too sappy for words. 3 stars
5/05/05 Kristi Achilleos very good movie! pleasant to watch :) 4 stars
4/30/05 Steve Newman Absolutely excellent. Some moments makes you feel uneasy - awesome 5 stars
4/29/05 Charlie Crappy ending, but an interesting plot and story. 3 stars
4/28/05 kathleen4691 A great family film...for parents who want their kids to learn about extramarital affairs. 2 stars
4/22/05 Kim Great fantasy. 4 stars
4/19/05 Sharon Fernando Excellent glimpse into Peter Pan's inspiration. 4 stars
4/16/05 David Siegel Better than the professional reviews. A good background "study". 4 stars
4/08/05 Denise wonderful 5 stars
4/04/05 killbill03 If you can buy into it, you may really like it. 4 stars
3/28/05 Charlene Javier Gets better after repeated viewings... 5 stars
3/27/05 Emma Excellent, one of my favourite films. 5 stars
2/19/05 lj wouldn't see it twice 3 stars
2/18/05 Captain Craig I didnt think truly great film could be made anymore. Every aspect was suberb! 5 stars
2/15/05 Melody Arneil One of the few films of 2004 that moved me to tears. LOVED IT! 5 stars
2/14/05 Angela Saunders Great movie, definite must see for a Peter Pan fan! 4 stars
2/10/05 H.P. Lovecraft I expected a little bit more for a best picture nominee. 3 stars
2/05/05 axe Like "Pan", better experienced in an audience with children. 4 stars
2/04/05 Melissa Johnny Depp - couldn't have been better! 5 stars
2/04/05 Ann Klonicki Johnny Depp is superb 5 stars
2/03/05 Mirella Rodriguez Who doesn't love Johnny? Great movie, great acting. 4 stars
2/03/05 craig varney can't find a better recent movie 5 stars
2/03/05 Debbi Kalstein interesting interpretation 5 stars
2/02/05 Clifford C Gardner Not great, but worth your time 4 stars
1/31/05 Danita Berg Beautiful....brought tears to my eyes. 4 stars
1/31/05 Gladys Paradowski Didn't achieve its objective, whatever that was. 2 stars
1/31/05 Lynda Eby Love Johnny Depp! 4 stars
1/31/05 Elena this was nice but everything shown was just so obvious and not deep 4 stars
1/31/05 Alison Mosbeck I don't see how anyone could NOT like this...a very imaginative film 4 stars
1/29/05 Charlene Javier Completely magical! 5 stars
1/29/05 malcolm Depp was a little too understated, but the film was great 4 stars
1/29/05 Garnet Leib So-SO 3 stars
1/29/05 Marilyn not to exciting 3 stars
1/29/05 Fred Pellerito Even though I'm a big Johnny Depp fan, this movie was nothing more than average 3 stars
1/29/05 Lisa Clarizio Johnny Depp's an excellent actor but just mediocre in this movie 2 stars
1/27/05 Roz How good is Johnny Depp?!! Charming story, great supporting cast, excellent art direction. 5 stars
1/26/05 Richard R. Lowe Better than awesome. Absolutely brilliant. 5 stars
1/15/05 Jamy I LOVE JOHNNY DEPP! He is a great actor and awsomeinseration to me in alll of his movies. 5 stars
1/14/05 green gremlin a superior "Shadowlands". Johnny Depp was simply awesome 5 stars
1/11/05 Heather Take some Kleenex 5 stars
1/09/05 KCobain A real treasure. Very powerful and emotional. 5 stars
1/05/05 Elizaveta A little too much like "Shadowlands." Still, its good but not great. 3 stars
1/05/05 Helen Bradley Poor editing too slow paced great stars failed by bad script too long 2 stars
12/29/04 The Mockingbird perhaps only too sweet for this cynical world. Wonderful acting all around 4 stars
12/26/04 efrain great movie. one of the best of 2004 5 stars
12/26/04 Suzz very fine acting; interesting storytelling 4 stars
12/13/04 A F Beautiful Film. Almost had some tears. 5 stars
12/08/04 Judy This film thrilled and moved me by its emotional honesty. 5 stars
12/07/04 Titus Nothing earth shattering, but a good (emotional) movie. 4 stars
12/05/04 Ron Cisco Moving, brought me to tears, the actor who plays 5 stars
12/03/04 Denise johnny rules 5 stars
11/26/04 Zohran Mamdani Amzing, brought me to tears! 5 stars
11/26/04 Destiny Pifer Wonderful movie! 5 stars
11/26/04 ajay good movie, but the ending went on about 10 minutes too long. 3 stars
11/26/04 Rudy Depp should have done more drugs in this film. 1 stars
11/24/04 Roger Yes, it's VERY good. 5 stars
11/24/04 T. Maj Conventional movie bio; Johnny Depp always worth watchoingnj 4 stars
11/23/04 Geoff Very good movie. Touching performances all around 4 stars
11/22/04 vagile Wonderful except for heavy handedness in last scene 5 stars
11/20/04 Kristina Williams You gotta love Johnny? 5 stars
11/19/04 kyla robertson Excellent movie. Johnny Depp is Amazing 5 stars
11/19/04 Tanaporn yes,it 's good 3 stars
11/18/04 matt wakeman Beautiful and tender. 4 stars
11/12/04 Paul Gaughan Absolutely fantastic ! I thought Winslett was brilliant as the Widow. Depp as good as ever 5 stars
11/11/04 Janet Wyatt Great drama lifted with flights of fancy. All the actors were superb. 4 stars
11/10/04 alex Disappointingly ordinary - clunky script and generally dull 2 stars
11/08/04 janyne mason i think it has a crap storyline, otherwise ok. 3 stars
11/07/04 Camdyn Nix Breath taking 5 stars
11/07/04 Emilia This film will be hailed alongside other Holiday Classics such as It's a Wonderful Life, et 5 stars
11/07/04 Karen Minton Terrific movie, Johnny Depp great 5 stars
11/07/04 Buffetblvd This film was magnificent - don't miss it!! 5 stars
11/02/04 Bronwen Johnny Depp is amazing. 5 stars
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  12-Nov-2004 (PG)
  DVD: 22-Mar-2005



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