Finding Neverland (2004)
“It is that time of the year” is a phrase the author of this review uttered when he saw FINDING NEVERLAND, 2004 biographic drama directed by Marc Forster. It was very clear that this film serves certain purpose – harvesting as many Academy Awards as possible. In the end, despite many critics praising it, FINDING NEVERLAND, faced with much formidable competition in the form of MILLION DOLLAR BABY and THE AVIATOR, failed in its mission and got only Academy Award for Jan A.P. Kaczmarek’s music score.
The plot of film, based on the stage play by Allan Knee, deals with Sir James Matthew Barrie (1860-1937), Scottish playwright best known as the creator of PETER PAN. In the beginning of the film Barrie (played by Johnny Depp) is troubled by the failure of his plays. Everything changes after meeting with recently widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (played by Kate Winslet) and four of her young sons. Barrie quickly befriends the boys and spends large amount of time with them, telling and inventing all kinds of adventure stories. Because of that Barrie’s marriage to actress Mary Ansell (played by Radha Mitchell) starts to fall apart, while Sylvia’s mother Emma du Maurier (played by Julie Christie) thinks that Barrie’s presence in her family could harm Sylvia’s marriage prospects and positions in society. All those problems, however, don’t prevent Barrie from taking inspiration from children in order to write his theatrical masterpiece.
A lot of effort was invested in FINDING NEVERLAND. Apart from the usual attention to period details of Edwardian London, production values could be seen in collection of notable acting talents. Johnny Depp plays Barrie very well – his character is enigmatic, but innocent in the same time and when he discards any speculations about real nature of his relationship with boys - in a scene introduced more likely in order to satisfy modern sentiments than for the sake of historic accuracy – the audience believes him. Depp’s acting is well-matched by veterans like Christie and always dependable Winslet. Even actors in minor roles are good, including Kelly MacDonald in the role of Peter Pan.
Unfortunately, FINDING NEVERLAND never puts all those talents to the proper, mostly due to David Magee’s script, which tries to inject some unnecessary drama into already fascinating story. Those efforts only make the story look artificial and clichéd, while the characters come on screen as cold Hollywood stereotypes instead of human beings. The only spark of genuine humanity appears at the very end, but by that time most great opportunities of FINDING NEVERLAND are already lost.
RATING: 4/10 (+)