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Overall Rating
3.96

Awesome38.71%
Worth A Look: 36.02%
Average: 13.98%
Pretty Bad: 4.84%
Total Crap: 6.45%

14 reviews, 102 user ratings


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Finding Neverland
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by Jay Seaver

"An exciting account of the act of creation."
5 stars

A couple seats down, a child was laughing. A few rows back, a woman was sobbing like I can't remember hearing at a movie in recent memory. Yeah, I figured, that's about right.

This is, after all, a movie about a man who, at least this once, was able to see the world as a child sees it, and created a story that could bridge the gap between adults and children. It would be easy to say that playwright J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) is the real Peter Pan, and not entirely inaccurate. That description sells Barrie short, though, as he is an adult who tries to act responsibly but makes mistakes. He does share the character's confidence.

Finding Neverland, as you may deduce, tracks the creation of Peter Pan, the play. As the film opens, we see his most recent creation, Little Mary, open disastrously (note that Barrie's wife is also named Mary; this is obvious but clever foreshadowing). However, the producer (Dustin Hoffman) has booked the theater and contracted the cast for an extended run, so when the Little Mary closes quickly, he needs a new play. As Barrie attempts to write one while walking his dog in the park, he meets the four Llewelyn-Davies children and their mother Sylvia (Kate Winslet). He's particularly concerned with Peter, an eight-year-old who has had the joy of childhood stolen from him by his father's recent death.

It is difficult to make a film about the creative process; in my experience, "the creative process" has two steps, neither terribly interesting to watch: First, you grab a pencil/keyboard/instrument and exercise your will; after that comes revision. The film gets around it by having Barrie play with the children and thus improvising his ideas. Through this process, we can see the elements that will become part of Peter Pan emerge - the pirates, the Indians, the children taking flight out a window, the concept of "lost boys". It is a great relief that writers Allan Knee (the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan) and David Magee (screenplay) never succumb to the cutesy ploy of having one of the children actually generate what is credited to Barrie; they merely serve as muses, children for him to observe and interact with. Their games are richly and fantastically detailed, all detailed but unrealistic stage costumes and wooden scenery - until some comment by Peter jolts them back to reality.

The cast is top-notch. Depp turns in yet another fine performance, not only managing a Scottish accent that sounds pretty good to my ears (said ears, admittedly, have never actually been to Scotland), but also capturing the whimsy and innocence that makes him believably not a threat to the children. It's especially impressive because director Marc Forster does give us brief glimpses of Barrie as something other than asexual, sharing moments with his wife that indicate that yes, there was physical attraction and passion there at one point, though they now sleep in separate bedrooms. Many of Depp's best scenes come opposite Freddie Highmore, the young actor playing Peter Llewelyn-Davies. Highmore gives a great performance, projecting more sadness and anger than should be able to come out of one so small. I was impressed by him in Five Children and It, and I see that Depp persuaded Tim Burton to cast him in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's title role. At only twelve years old, he is staring to build an impressive career.

Speaking of an impressive career, Kate Winslet bookends 2004 with another great performance as the ailing Sylvia. It's not quite as impressive as how she started the year (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), but is equal parts joie de vivre and denial. Sylvia initially seems flighty and indulgent, especially for her time, but that is gradually revealed as conscious, borne of the desire to make what time she and her children have as happy as possible; because of this, she clashes with her domineering but pragmatic mother-in-law, played by Julie Christie.

The other woman in Barrie's life is his wife, Mary, played by Radha Mitchell. Someday, I'll come up with an explanation as to why her career hasn't taken off; she's talented and beautiful and made a strong impression in Pitch Black, but since then seems to get thankless wife roles in movies like Phone Booth and Man on Fire. Here, the role is at least a bit meatier, as the dissatisfied wife who understands her husband all too well. She could be made a villain, but isn't; her social ambitions just wind up being incompatible with Barrie's childlike outlook. Dustin Hoffman is a small gem in his role as the producer who commiserates with Barrie on how critics take the theater too seriously, but still focuses on the dollars-and-cents aspect. Another adult friend of Barrie's is played by Ian Hart. Amusingly, I didn't realize he was playing Arthur Conan Doyle until looking the movie up on the IMDB. I now know that in addition to writing mysteries, historical romances, and science fiction, training as a medical doctor, and feuding with Harry Houdini on matters paranormal, Doyle was also an avid and skilled cricketer.

A quick internet search will also show the liberties this movie takes with real life - there were five Davies boys, for instance, and their father was a long-time friend of Barrie's who was still alive during the summer of 1903. Mary Ansell Barrie left her husband several years after Peter Pan was first staged, though the movie suggests a different timeline. These changes take Finding Neverland out of the category of biography and into that of fiction, and while none may be necessary, the end result is very strong as drama. Very strong.

Finding Neverland is a tear-jerker without question, but even as it deals with marriages failing and parents dying, it also highlights the human drive to create, to create something immortal and glorious from that which is real and sad. It is also very even-handed; even though Barrie often takes "silly" as a compliment, and Depp makes him young-at-heart, the movie is never juvenile.

So, maybe childish, but in a good way. Perhaps the greatest wisdom an adult can have is knowing when and how to look at the world as a child does.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10919&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/02/05 16:45:24
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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

10/19/09 Liberty Man Great story and Depp as he should be. Enough with the pirate already. 5 stars
10/06/09 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
9/26/08 Shaun Wallner Great story! 5 stars
5/16/08 PAUL SHORTT TUGS AT THE HEARTSTRINGS LIKE A TOE-FINGERED HARPIST 1 stars
5/09/08 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
9/05/07 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
11/11/06 Bill Hi all 4 stars
9/08/06 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
5/22/06 Diane P very charming, my daughter enjoyed it as well 4 stars
5/06/06 Ashley Hinz I don't like Johnny Depp, but I enjoyed this. 4 stars
2/10/06 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
10/12/05 Jennifer Free You would think that it was for kids, but they were totally bored, and so was I. 3 stars
9/20/05 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
8/26/05 EZ Let's go make make the worst play ever while talking with the worst accent possilbe 1 stars
8/20/05 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
6/17/05 DM Sappy in places but very well-acted. 4 stars
5/29/05 Jake Good film but not oscar worthy 4 stars
5/22/05 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
5/01/05 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
4/29/05 kathleen4691 A great family film...for parents who want their kids to learn about extramarital affairs. 2 stars
4/23/05 Kim Great fantasy. 4 stars
4/20/05 Sharon Fernando Excellent glimpse into Peter Pan's inspiration. 4 stars
4/17/05 David Siegel Better than the professional reviews. A good background "study". 4 stars
4/09/05 Denise wonderful 5 stars
4/05/05 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
3/28/05 Emma Excellent, one of my favourite films. 5 stars
2/20/05 lj wouldn't see it twice 3 stars
2/19/05 Captain Craig I didnt think truly great film could be made anymore. Every aspect was suberb! 5 stars
2/16/05 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
2/11/05 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
2/05/05 Melissa Johnny Depp - couldn't have been better! 5 stars
2/05/05 Ann Klonicki Johnny Depp is superb 5 stars
2/04/05 Mirella Rodriguez Who doesn't love Johnny? Great movie, great acting. 4 stars
2/04/05 craig varney can't find a better recent movie 5 stars
2/04/05 Debbi Kalstein interesting interpretation 5 stars
2/03/05 Clifford C Gardner Not great, but worth your time 4 stars
2/01/05 Danita Berg Beautiful....brought tears to my eyes. 4 stars
2/01/05 Gladys Paradowski Didn't achieve its objective, whatever that was. 2 stars
2/01/05 Lynda Eby Love Johnny Depp! 4 stars
2/01/05 Elena this was nice but everything shown was just so obvious and not deep 4 stars
2/01/05 Alison Mosbeck I don't see how anyone could NOT like this...a very imaginative film 4 stars
1/30/05 Charlene Javier Completely magical! 5 stars
1/30/05 malcolm Depp was a little too understated, but the film was great 4 stars
1/30/05 Garnet Leib So-SO 3 stars
1/30/05 Marilyn not to exciting 3 stars
1/30/05 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
1/27/05 Richard R. Lowe Better than awesome. Absolutely brilliant. 5 stars
1/16/05 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
1/12/05 Heather Take some Kleenex 5 stars
1/10/05 KCobain A real treasure. Very powerful and emotional. 5 stars
1/06/05 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
12/30/04 The Mockingbird perhaps only too sweet for this cynical world. Wonderful acting all around 4 stars
12/27/04 efrain great movie. one of the best of 2004 5 stars
12/27/04 Suzz very fine acting; interesting storytelling 4 stars
12/14/04 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
12/08/04 Titus Nothing earth shattering, but a good (emotional) movie. 4 stars
12/06/04 Ron Cisco Moving, brought me to tears, the actor who plays 5 stars
12/04/04 Denise johnny rules 5 stars
11/27/04 Zohran Mamdani Amzing, brought me to tears! 5 stars
11/27/04 Destiny Pifer Wonderful movie! 5 stars
11/27/04 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
11/25/04 Roger Yes, it's VERY good. 5 stars
11/25/04 T. Maj Conventional movie bio; Johnny Depp always worth watchoingnj 4 stars
11/24/04 Geoff Very good movie. Touching performances all around 4 stars
11/23/04 vagile Wonderful except for heavy handedness in last scene 5 stars
11/21/04 Kristina Williams You gotta love Johnny? 5 stars
11/20/04 kyla robertson Excellent movie. Johnny Depp is Amazing 5 stars
11/20/04 Tanaporn yes,it 's good 3 stars
11/19/04 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
11/12/04 Janet Wyatt Great drama lifted with flights of fancy. All the actors were superb. 4 stars
11/11/04 alex Disappointingly ordinary - clunky script and generally dull 2 stars
11/09/04 janyne mason i think it has a crap storyline, otherwise ok. 3 stars
11/08/04 Camdyn Nix Breath taking 5 stars
11/08/04 Emilia This film will be hailed alongside other Holiday Classics such as It's a Wonderful Life, et 5 stars
11/08/04 Karen Minton Terrific movie, Johnny Depp great 5 stars
11/07/04 Buffetblvd This film was magnificent - don't miss it!! 5 stars
11/03/04 Bronwen Johnny Depp is amazing. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  12-Nov-2004 (PG)
  DVD: 22-Mar-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
  01-Jan-2005




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