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Finding Neverland

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Finding Neverland

Starring: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet
Director: Marc Forster
Rated: PG
RunTime: 106 Minutes
Release Date: November 2004
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Julie Christie, Nick Roud, Radha Mitchell, Dustin Hoffman, Joe Prospero, Freddie Highmore, Kate Maberly, Luke Spill, Kelly Macdonald, Tony Way

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Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

Miles, who is Paul Giamatti's character in "Sideways," is middle- aged and reports, despondently, that the best part of his life is over. He has only his love of wine to keep him going. Fair enough: but what would you think of a guy who thinks that life is essentially over after the age of 12: who advises kids of that age not to go to sleep because they will only wake up a day older? Such is the philosophy that drives James M. Barrie (Johnny Depp), who is unhappily married and whose affections are displayed when he is around kids. A group of such children inspire him to write a breakthrough play "Peter Pan" in 1904, the first such fantasy ever mounted on the London stage strictly for children and for the young in heart.

With a performance by Johnny Depp that can sweep adults off their feet, "Finding Neverland" is Marc Forster's fictionalized biopic of J.M. Barrie from a script by David Magee which was in turn adapted from Allen Knee's play "The Man Who Was Peter Pan."

Roberto Schaefer, who photographs London at the turn of the twentieth century, concentrates on the city's sophisticates--the theatergoers who come from the upper reaches of a society informed by Victorian manners and manors. Even the orphans who are comped to an opening night production of Barrie's "Peter Pan" are polite, well-dressed, and happy.

Barrie himself has a reputation as a distinguished playwright whose works are not always cheered by London critics, but he is regularly backed by producer Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman) whose complaints about the large amounts of money he sinks into each attempt to absorb the tuxedo-clad crowds in central London are belied by his trust and faith in his writer's potential.

Depp, whose adopted Scottish brogue is surprisingly understandable by an American movie audience, is portrayed as a man without children of his own, one who neglects his pretty wife, Mary (Radha Mitchell) despite the advantage of the opulent home where he and Mary are served by two maids. He feels more comfortable around his Newfoundland dog, Porthos, with whom he plays by casting a ball attached to a fishing rod. While in the park one day, he comes upon four young lads with their widowed mother, Sylvia (Kate Winslet). When he cavorts with his dog while telling the children that the animal is a dancing bear, he shows more imagination than the children, who insist that the "bear" is "just a dog." At this point director Marc Forster pulls off the first of surreal images, the best of which will conclude the story, by juxtaposing the scene in the park with a full-scale circus ring complete with animals and clowns. He "adopts," or is adopted, by this new family with whom he shares time that otherwise would have been spend with his wife, Mary.

"Finding Neverland" never descends into either a Masterpiece Theatre version, too lofty to be appreciate by any kids who will turn out for this PG-rated film, or a dull biopic. Forster avoids a literal interpretation of Barrie's life with his new family, casting his eye in part on the children's overly rigid grandmother, Mrs. Emma Du Maurier (Julie Christie), whom Barrie imagines as the villainous pirate of his masterwork, "Peter Pan." A particularly sweet, but not cloying, performance is turned in by young (Freddie Highmore) in the role of Peter, who appears to be Barrie' favorite and the chap who inspires the play. When after a victorious opening night of the play, a theatergoer, introduced to the eight-year-old, remarks, "You're Peter Pan," the boy, without skipping a beat, corrects her: "He's Peter," he says, pointing at Barrie, whose relationship with his wife is so cold that we wonder whether he'll be able to relate to his "children" when they advance in age.

Copyright 2004 Harvey Karten

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