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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 MP Bartley

5 stars

When telling the story behind the boy who never grew up, could there be a better choice than Johnny Depp? Depp attacks every role with a childlike glee, from pirates to gangsters, and his best roles are the ones where he finds a childlike innocence in the characters, like 'Ed Wood' or 'Edward Scissorhands'. 'Finding Neverland' instantly jumps to the top of the list of great Depp performances. And Depp's performance is just one reason why 'Finding Neverland' is one of the most charming, lump-in-the-throat experiences we'll have this year.

Depp is James Barrie in early 20th century London, when he was a struggling playwright and was yet to unleash 'Peter Pan' upon the world. Instead he's in a run of bad plays which is starting to try the patience of his friend and theatre owner Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman - and how glad he must be to be finally associated with a great Peter Pan film). Barrie's struggle and flights of imagination are also starting to drive a wedge between him and his icy, social climbing wife, Mary (Radha Mitchell). This wedge is intensified when he encounters the Llewelyn-Davies family of young mother Sylvia (Kate Winslet) and her four boys, Michael, Jack, George and Peter (Freddie Highmore).

The family is mourning the loss of their husband and father and Sylvia's mother, Mrs. du Maurier (Julie Christie) is exerting a stern influence over the children. Barrie however is taken with the boys natural exuberance and their willingness to participate in his imaginative games of cowboys and pirates, and they in turn start to form a story in his mind of a boy who never grew up. It's the introspective Peter that chimes with Barrie the most as he's the one that seems to have taken his fathers death the worst, and as Barrie confides to Sylvia, "is trying to grow up too fast". Barrie is also unaware of just what his wife and society are making of his relationship with a widow and four young boys.

The omens for 'Finding Neverland' were not good, considering that 'Monster's Ball' director Marc Forster was behind the camera. Despite an Oscar for Halle Berry, that film was false and patronising with not a single honest emotion to its credit. Happily however, Forster seems to have learned his lesson, as 'Finding Neverland' is a mature piece of work that earns its emotional response, whilst filled with and revelling in the energy and imagination of childhood.

Gone is Forster's previously sterile and aloof direction, and replacing it is a fanciful, yet never silly, style that perfectly illustrates how Barrie let the real world feed his imagination and vice versa. Barrie finds inspiration in the smallest of things (a flickering light becomes Tinkerbell, a prodded finger a captain's hook) and the film truly soars when suburban and homely settings spring into life as a pirate ship in a stop-motion sea, or Barrie opens his bedroom door which leads into Neverland itself. But it never becomes cloying or sickly, as the fantasy sequences are always superbly contrasted to the melancholy of real-life. This dazzling use of imagination is also steeped in good humour as the ever-disbelieving Frohman watches rehearsals with a fake dog who has no teeth.

And a cast just delight in engaging with this two-pronged approach of fantasy against sobering reality. Hoffman grumbles his way splendidly through the theatre owner on the verge of ruin because of Barrie, and Mitchell and Christie are a fine pair of villains (although the film is mature enough not to just paint them as black and white - they each have a revealing moment which shows they're human too). Winslet is as good as ever as the mother struggling to hold a family of four young boys together, but the talk (including Oscar talk if there's any justice) will quite rightly belong to the two male leads.

Move over Osment and forget about Daniel 'Harry Potter' Radcliffe, because a new kid (literally) is in town, and damnit if he isn't the most affecting child actor in years. And that's 'affecting', not 'annoying' or 'maudlin'. No, Freddie Highmore gives an astonishing performance light years behind his age which just oozes maturity. He avoids the usual pitfalls of child actors his age and is wounded, hurting and doesn't want to give in to his natural childish dreams because real life just comes along and stomps all over them. It's a terrific portrayal of a confused little boy who is given hope by a stranger, and will work your tear ducts more than once.

And what can you say about Depp? It's becoming almost pointless to praise him, because he nails every part he does. You could put him in 'Van Helsing 2' and you'd happily watch it. And when armed with such a charming, heartfelt script like here, he withdraws, never shows off and just basks in the sheer class that he radiates. His Scottish accent is faultless, and he perfectly illustrates Barrie's blend of childishness, imagination and sense of affection for the young boys. But the fact that he's a lax husband, and too immature for a settled life isn't ducked at all.

The film also navigates the potentially thorny subject of a grown man befriending four young boys. It's addressed head on and dismissed with disgust by Depp, and the film never feels icky or uncomfortable with this subject matter, it just feels heart-warming (and I use this word as a massive compliment) and truthful.

Because 'Finding Neverland' is unashamedly sentimental and wears its heart on its sleeve, to tear-jerking effect. Yep, this is a film I would advise taking a hanky or three to. But it's never maudlin or manipulative, it's honest and mature. Hats off to Forster, for learning his lessons from 'Monster's Ball'.

It's been a long time that something as affecting and heart-warming yet melancholic has been wrapped up into one package as effectively as 'Finding Neverland' does. Last year's 'In America' pushed a lot of the same buttons but ultimately suffered because of a cop-out ending, that 'Finding Neverland' refuses to bow too. Superb, award-worthy performances from Depp and Highmore are just the bows on this beautifully done early Christmas present. I'm a grown man who loves beer, football and sexy women but I'm not ashamed to say that I blubbed more then once and that I wouldn't hesitate to describe 'Finding Neverland' as enchanting.

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originally posted: 11/03/04 04:06:04
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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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