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Neverlands

This evening I saw Finding Neverland for the second time in a week, and I felt that I would like to write something about it, because I enjoyed it so very much. (Warning: Very mild spoilers are contained in this review.) This movie is fairly unique in two respects in particular.

First, it is a recent release, it is a serious drama, it is an award-winner with (I would say) a good chance at multiple Oscars (I would not be surprised to see nominations for best picture, director, actor, screenplay, and original score), and . . . with a PG rating it is pretty much squeaky clean. This is totally unprecedented in my experience. None of the movies on my list which are this appropriate (and have ratings even nearly comparable to the one I gave this) were produced after about 1970. One simply doesn’t find high-caliber, thought-provoking movies that one can safely watch with literally anyone (at least, not anymore) . . . but there it is.

Second, this movie makes me cry, and that’s fine. I don’t cry while watching movies . . . ever. Rarely am I even choked up. It’s not that I’m not a “softie” or that I’m trying to be macho. There are a number of books that have brought me to tears (Where the Red Fern Grows and Black Beauty leap immediately to mind). It’s just that movies have a hard time suspending my disbelief to the point where I actually connect what is on the screen with reality. I’m too good at “seeing the invisible wires” . . . even when the dialogue or acting don’t suck horribly (as they so often do in the midst of a “sappy” scene). But at various points during Finding Neverland, even while watching it a second time, I found myself strangely moved by the characters’ emotions.

With the former as one cause and latter as one effect, this movie is seriously excellent. It tells the story of J. M. Barrie’s friendship with the four recently-fatherless Llewelyn Davies boys (George, John, Peter, and Michael) and how it inspired the creation of his stage opus, Peter Pan. Along the way he provides just what the boys need in the way of a father figure and a playmate, helping them through the grieving process and teaching them to use their imaginations and . . . all that good stuff.

Johnny Depp, as Barrie, is magnificent as always. Freddy Highmore, who plays Peter, is a child actor of immense talent, and he really makes this movie work. Kate Winslet (as the boys’ mother) is quite good. Dustin Hoffman and Julie Christie in relatively minor roles are both very fun to watch, and everyone else in the movie is competent at the very least.

The music is wonderful, and much of it is actually being played by stage orchestras in the movie (which is always cool). The cinematography is very nice . . . one shot in particular sends the camera sweeping freely in wild loops around a packed Victorian theater as the characters onstage take off and begin to fly. Art direction and costumes and so on are enchanting . . . lush, rich, beautiful colors are everywhere, but especially when we enter the world of Barrie’s imagination.

One of my favorite moments is near the beginning when Barrie bids his wife good night and they enter their separate bedrooms. They both open their doors, and through his doorway we see a bright, green meadow with grass and flowers blowing in the breeze. Throughout the movie, in fact, the transitions between Barrie’s imagination and the real world are delightful to watch . . . I was reminded very much of Big Fish (another favorite of mine).

Some of the best scenes involve the various points where the audience actually sees the sources of Barrie’s inspiration. When the boys’ grandmother is lecturing them while she waves a coat hanger about we see Barrie’s mind suddenly shift her hand into a hook. As the boys jump up and down on their beds while their mother tries to get them to go to sleep, Barrie suddenly imagines them all taking off and flying right out the open window into the night sky. Even Barrie’s dog, Porthos, bears a striking resemblance to the fictional dog, Nanny.

I think my absolute favorite part, however, is when the 25 orphans (for whom Barrie has saved a scattering of seats on opening night) join the stuffy, upper-class, theater-going crowd. There are disgusted looks, raised eyebrows, and general grumblings at first (“Looks like we got one of the better dressed ones,” comments one theater-goer as Peter takes his seat). And, as the play begins and the children begin to laugh and gasp and respond (starry-eyed) to what is going on onstage, the adults glare . . . But before long, they too are caught up in the magic of the story, and by the end of the production they seem to have made friends with the youngsters, and are acting decades younger themselves.

But anyway, I needn’t give away any more of the movie. You should go see it. I would simply like to note that I was fascinated to observe some fairly obvious parallels between this movie (which, by the way, is based on a play: The Man Who Was Peter Pan) and the movie/play Shadowlands about the life of C. S. Lewis . . . even down to a common element in their titles. Both are certainly excellent, and I suppose I should endorse the message of the latter over that of the former (unless you’re paying close attention, you’ll think it’s preaching pure escapism . . . and at various points, it is). However, I think I prefer Finding Neverland when all is said and done. I’m not knocking Shadowlands . . . it has a very different aim, that’s all. Somehow, Neverland manages to leave me feeling better at the end, and it possesses a certain element that Shadowlands had in fairly short supply. As Peter says of Barrie’s play in Neverland, “It’s magical.”

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~ by Jared on January 14, 2005.

One Response to “Neverlands”

  1. Well that certainly means a theater going for me…though who knows when it willever reach Guate. I was hooked before the reference to Shadowlands but that particularly touched me.
    I just watched it again after several years and while certainly not “magical” (stodgy, uptight, repessed old bachelors are rarely magical) I was much more touched the second time. Maybe just an old marrieds thing…

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