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Overall Rating

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 Peter Sobczynski

"I do believe in Johnny Depp!"
4 stars

“Finding Neverland” is a biopic about an artist best known today for creating one work so famous and beloved that it remains the single thing that he remains known for today, it explores the platonic behind-the-scenes relationship that wound up influencing both the work and his life and it poses him as a dreamer in a stultifyingly rational world that looks upon him as a freak and an outsider. In other words, it plays a lot like Tim Burton’s wonderful “Ed Wood”, and not just because Johnny Depp stars in both of them. Of course, by focusing on author J.M. Barrie, the creation of his theatrical masterpiece “Peter Pan” and his friendship with a beautiful-but-sickly widow with a brood of adorable children instead of on the cross-dressing creator of “Plan 9 From Outer Space” and his friendship with the drug-addled Bela Lugosi, the makers of “Finding Neverland” have come up with a somewhat more audience-friendly approach to the subject. Even though it may lack a certain edge (being Miramax Oscar bait, after all), the material is presented with enough humor and emotion, not to mention several splendid performances, that even the hardest of hearts may find themselves genuinely moved by the majority of least until the spectacularly horrible final moment. (More about that later.)

Even the openings, in which playwright Depp peeks in on his audience during a tepid opening-night performance of his latest work, are remarkably similar. The difference here is that while Wood was boundlessly enthused with his own work, Barrie is fully aware that he has come up with a flop. Urged by his producer (Dustin Hoffman in full scenery-chewing mode) to come up with something new in a hurry in order to cut their losses, Barrie, and his ever-present sheepdog, sits in a park trying to come up with an idea and finds himself enraptured by the sight of a group of children at play. They are the brood of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet), a young widow under pressure from her domineering mother (Julie Christie) to marry again for the sake of convenience. Barrie befriends the family and soon spends all of his time with them spinning elaborate stories-mostly aimed at young Peter (Freddie Highmore), who has hit the age where the imagination doesn’t work as well as it once had.

Although nothing improper occurs, the relationship between Barrie and Sylvia inspires bad feelings all around. His social-climbing wife (Radha Mitchell) strenuously disapproves of her-mostly, it seems, because of Sylvia’s lower social standing, her mother is outraged at Barrie for lowering Sylvia’s marriage prospects and, according to Barrie’s friend Arthur Conan Doyle (Ian Hart in a nice cameo), all of London assumes that the two are having an affair. On the other hand, hanging out with Sylvia and her kids begins to inspire a new idea for a play-a piece involving pirates and faeries and a boy who refuses to grow up. (One of the great joys of the film is the scene in which the puzzled actors are having their roles explained to them-especially the man who learns that he will be playing a dog.)

Throughout his career, Johnny Depp has made a name for himself for playing a variety of nuts, kooks and crazy dreamers-so many that it is impossible to think of another actor who could possibly play the role of J.M. Barrie. And yet, even though he has played this sort of part many times before, he still finds new and intriguing things to do with it. Too many other actors might have been tempted to play up the childlike qualities of the role at the expense of the scenes involving genuine adult emotion. Depp, on the other hand, finds a smart balance between the two aspects so that he can effortlessly slip from one to the other without it ever seeming contrived. In fact, his performance is so good that it may well overshadow the work of his co-stars. Given a role that should by all mean be unplayable (when was the last time anyone ever made anything out of the role of sad widow with one of the incurable movie diseases that makes you look increasingly beautiful as you get sicker?), Kate Winslet is quite moving and wonderful and Julie Christie turns in another in her recent string of late-career appearances that make you wish she would work a lot more often than she does. As Barrie’s producer, Dustin Hoffman contributes one of those flamboyantly hammy turns that you expect from the likes of Peter O’Toole and he is delightful at it; his reaction when he discovers exactly how Barrie wants to use the numerous tickets he requested for the opening-night performance of “Peter Pan” is simply hilarious. (Also, special kudos for whoever came upwith the brilliant idea of having the always-saucy Kelly MacDonald play the first Peter Pan, a notion strong enough to make anyone believe in faeries.)

By all right, “Finding Neverland” should be unbearable treacle, even before we learn that Sylvia is herself deathly ill. While events do play out as a little too smoothly to seem entirely true (the dark rumors about Barrie’s interest with the children is glossed over, as is the apparent fact that he and Sylvia met before the death of her husband), the gift of David Masee’s screenplay is that he never lets things get too far out of hand.. Even towards the end, in which Sylvia, too ill to attend the premiere of “Peter Pan”, is treated to a full-scale performance in her parlor, director Marc Forster gets his laughs and tears without resorting to cheap ploys to provoke a response. There is a fine line between the sentimental and the saccharine and “Finding Neverland” always keeps its feet firmly planted in the land of the former.

Until the ending, that is. In an inexplicable lapse of taste and judgment, the perfect final images of “Finding Neverland” fade away and are immediately replaced by one of the worst end-credit songs I can remember-a braying ballad from Elton John that skews so far away from the genuine emotion of the film proper that it almost becomes laughable. It isn’t even a matter of whether it is a decent song or not (though even by the reduced standards of John’s post-1970’s catalogue, the tune sucks), what is so grossly offensive about it is that it has nothing to do with the film, adds nothing but the possibility of a Best Original Song nomination (where quality, recent wins by Dylan, Springsteen and Eminem to the contrary, generally takes a back seat to star power) and winds up destroying the magic that all involved with the film have created. Apparently,the inclusion of the song was less the idea of the filmmakers (In an article in “Premiere”, Forster admitted “It doesn’t feel right” and Depp stated, “I think that Elton John and Bernie Taupin have written some sublime pieces of music with equally sublime lyrics over the years, but this isn’t one of those”) and more the idea of Miramax poobah Harvey Weinstein. My recommendation-see the film and bolt the second the credits start while covering your ears and chanting “I don’t believe in Harvey!”

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originally posted: 11/19/04 16:10:36
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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
5/09/08 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
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  12-Nov-2004 (PG)
  DVD: 22-Mar-2005



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