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Finding Neverland
Tchaikovsky Cultural Center 
Directed by Marc Foster. Starring: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman, Radha Mitchell, Julie Christie, Freddie Highmore. Written by David Magee (based on the Allan Knee play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan”). 101 minutes. UK/USA.
By Ryan Macalino:

The story of Peter Pan and his adventures in Neverland have fascinated many in the last 100 years, and have gone through numerous revivals and revisits. “Finding Neverland” gives us another angle from which to view this story, one through the eyes of its creator, Sir J.M. Barrie. Based on a play by Allan Knee, the movie begins with the words ‘Inspired by True Events’, thus immediately suggesting to the audience to treat this as a biography – a magical one at that.

The setting is London of a little over a century ago, in 1903 where a theatre is set to show Barrie’s (Johnny Depp) new play. Already a well-known playwright by this time, Barrie is nervous at the sight of so many ‘serious faces’ in the crowd, sensing that they will not be satisfied with this new production. After disastrous results, his friend and theatrical impresario Charles (Dustin Hoffman) implores him to produce something new that will satiate the appetite of his more sophisticated audience.

Barrie thus retreats to his typical leisurely walk through Kensington Gardens, where he falls upon a newfound source of inspiration. On what becomes a serendipitous occasion, he makes the acquaintance of recently-widowed Sylvia (Kate Winslet), the mother of the brothers Davies – the kids who would later be immortalized as Barrie’s inspiration for Peter Pan’s followers, the Lost Boys.

The innocence of the Davies brothers and the strength of their imagination awaken something latent within Barrie. To the delight of the ailing Sylvia, Barrie immediately befriends them, providing the fuel for his imminent creation in taking writing breaks amidst games of make-believe with the children. Among them, he develops a special affinity to Peter (Freddie Highmore), who seems wary of Barrie’s intentions, suspecting him of trying to replace his deceased dad.

“Finding Neverland” has three main dynamics which would have an effect on the creation of Barrie’s Peter Pan: his relationship with his wife (Radha Mitchell) versus his newfound kindred spirit in Sylvia, the meddling of others into his connection with the Davies family, and most importantly, his interaction with his Peter. In effect, Peter seems to be Barrie’s opposite – whereas Barrie relishes in the innocence of never-ending childhood, Peter seems to have abandoned this, instead wanting to be treated seriously like an adult.

Adapted for the screen by David Magee, the surprisingly modern script focuses primarily on Barrie and the motivation for his opus. Magee’s Oscar-nominated adaptation is mature, and wisely avoids any nuances of what could easily be Hollywood fodder in exploring either an adulterous or pederastic subplot in Barrie’s life story. In addition, Marc Foster’s masterful direction allows us to see this story unfold with what seems to be Barrie’s special, self-contained way of seeing the world – his ‘Neverland’. Reminiscent of the literary works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Paulo Coelho, Barrie’s life seems to have reality and magic intertwined, but not merely as a source of escapism but also of inspiration.

Barrie’s life story also benefits from the actor portraying him, in another stellar turn from Johnny Depp. While the rest of the cast delivers, Depp shows that he is deserving of his Oscar nomination. His performance is extraordinary; once again he proves his range and the care he puts into his craft. He imbues Barrie with a gentleness that makes the whole story believable, and carries Magee’s script with the proper sensibility. Add to this his flawless Scottish accent, and he becomes Barrie.

Unsurprisingly, “Finding Neverland” is billed as somewhat of a ‘feel good movie’. And while the elements are in place to make it as such, some viewers might not agree after seeing an all-too-real final scene. This is understandable, as it is still the filmmakers’ responsibility to wrap this biography as neatly as possible, without taking too many liberties with the script. This does not at all take anything away from the pure brilliance of this film, and if anything it adds to it. In effect, by movie’s end, we are reminded of the life’s beauty through its fragility, and the importance of unlocking one’s imagination – one’s own Neverland.


By Sara Sly:

Despite Johnny Depp's charisma and qualifying good looks, the actor's true appeal lies in his clever choice of roles. The essence of each human creature Depp plays shines through a blank slate of body and movement while a fantastical ambience whirls about them both - actor and character.

Perhaps Depp's choices reflect something quixotic in his personality. Edward Scissorhands, Ichabod Crane, Raoul Duke of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Captain Jack Sparrow, George Jung of Blow, Dean Corson of The Ninth Gate - all radiate a defiance not only against particular asphyxiating environments, but against the mentality allowing surroundings and societies to smother beauty. When watching Depp be these characters, do we not sense their disdain for the mundane and accompany them in retreat from the vulgar into a realm of ethereal morality?

In Finding Neverland Johnny Depp is James M. Barrie, the Scottish playwright who created “Peter Pan”. Barrie is an extraordinarily imaginative man whose contrast to those about is well marked. Everyone around him speaks in muted high society English whilst his lilted tongue sticks out. His social pattern does not quite conform to the respectable. When his wife turns a house cold and distant, he retreats to a room of glowing ambrosia. Down on his luck in the realm of public applause, he must begin to dig deep for redeeming inspiration.

Having sat in search on his customary park-bench, he hears a noise from beneath. It is the murmuring of someone’s little brother imprisoned for being just that – a little brother. That afternoon, Barrie makes the acquaintance of Peter, Jack. George and Michael Davies with their mother Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. The developing relationship between the six protagonists is delicate and dreamy. The boys are caught in the crux of child and adulthood, Sylvia suffers from a terminal chest cold and Barrie must deal (not deal) with a deteriorating home situation. However, together they manage to find warmth and caring elsewhere lost. Floating in the little world they make, the children gain a male role model, Sylvia finds a friend, and Sir James Barrie discovers “Peter Pan.”

“Peter Pan” taps into a theme of eternal appeal. It isn’t only a story about growing up, it’s also an admonition to retain a touch of innocence and fiercely guard that flashing imagination even as an adult. In Finding Neverland, this message is twice as deep. Not only do we recall the spirit of the play itself, we watch as Barrie and the Davies form their own difficult reality into one more beautiful and tender. Although no one can resist the sound of adventure, lofty passions, and noble deeds, most people can’t actually run off and follow the horn. What people CAN do, however, is learn to use imagination and kindness to create inner worlds of dear friends and family that illuminate melancholy or tragic environs. They can do this successfully even despite severe disapproval from society.

In sum, I advance the proposition that Johnny Depp is aware of the importance of fancy as a weapon in the war against the absurdities of over-realism. I bet the role of Sir James Matthew Barrie appealed to his sense of hallucination and he likes the misfit glow underlying the film flow. I also move that Depp likes producing messages rich with colorful mischief and glimmers of altruism. That and/or he is a cunning image businessman who knows that people will never tire of purchasing products that seduce the imagination. You see, the consummate public seducer knows that no one can resist the lure of promise and vicarious escape from triviality. Con artist, politician, and rock star types for example, remake themselves into the embodiment of an heightened reality, a place where people can join them to have it all, defend the fatherland, or sing well. Well, who knows what Johnny Depp is up to. I prefer to believe that he has a lovely soul and refined sensibilities. What you believe is up to you.

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