Worth A Look: 36.02%
Pretty Bad: 4.84%
Total Crap: 6.45%
14 reviews, 102 user ratings
by David Hollands
Right after one finishes watching Finding Neverland, one thinks that they've just seen a five-star film. Such is the initial power of un-imaginative, by the numbers cinema. Everyone, really, is lazy at heart and mind. That's why I suspect it's usually the bio-pic that ends up getting the most Oscars, both won and nominated. It's one of the easiest genres in which to work because it requires little to no actual thought on the part of anyone. The dangers of waiting to review a film of this nature is that even taking a moment to think about what one has actually watched results in one's respect for the film dropping to all-time lows.This movie tells the story of how playwright J.M. Barrie created the story of Peter Pan. Coming off the failure of a previous production, Barrie convinces producer Charles Frohman to let him have one more production. This, he guarantees, will be a success. One day, while writing in the park, he comes across the Davies family. He works his way into their lives, introducing them into the wonderful world of the human imagination. Initially, he is met with hostility by both his wife and Mrs. Davies' mother, but as a rule of the bio-pic, this will be resolved in a big sentimental conclusion. If you have a lazy mind, you will cry.
"Finding absolutely nothing."
Predictability doesn't always bother me. In fact, I'm a big fan of action and horror movies, two of the most predictable genres in cinematic history. To me, cliches can work depending on how they are executed. If there is something at work in the film that indicates to me a passion and excitement for the material, I can often look past the fact that I've seen certain things over a million times before. Here, one can't feel that. The proceedings are as by the numbers as something can possibly become. Worse, the filmmakers seem to be relying completely on them in order to carry the story. Every tear-jerker moment comes with a cliche attached. There's nothing much done to get into the audience's head and really pull a great moment from any scene. All we get are sequences that have used a million times before. Hell, watch this and any other bio-pic ever made and note how most scenes back to back are practically identical. Again, this wouldn't bother me, if there was just some indication of life within the proceedings.
One of the main themes of the film is letting one's imagination soar. How sad then that this film ultimately has none. Being imaginative means trying new things; taking risks. Most of this movie is already historically inaccurate anyway, so why not change things around even more so as to add more of that "i" word in places. But no, the film uses one heck of a major cheat to try and show that our main protagonist has imagination while the rest of the world does not. Frequently throughout, we see what Barrie sees inside his own head, usually through some pretty bad visual effects. When one thinks about it, what is more imaginative? Showing exactly what Barrie sees, or establishing his imaginative side and letting the audience think about what must be going on in his head on their own? Gosh forbid an audience should actually be required to think when going to the cinema, right? Imagination for dummies is the entirety of this film, really.
It doesn't help that most of these "imaginative" interludes come at poorly placed moments. One becomes inclined to burst out laughing whenever these shots show up onscreen, because they are done so poorly that they shatter tone mercilessly. Two sequences especially are worthy of being mocked on Mystery Science Theatre 3000: one involves Barrie dancing with a fully grown bear, and the other is a shot during the conclusion when the camera flies about a theatre before ending on one character to show emotional impact. Ha. There's something called cutting. It saves a lot of time and eliminates showiness. And it's often a lot less distracting.
Barrie's "imagination" is also used to showcase things that are already quite obvious. One of them involves Barrie and his wife Mary. Mary has a hard personality, and Barrie is a bottomless well of creativity and life. We can already see this through their characteristics, how they interact, etc. Yet director Marc Forster seems to think we still don't get it, and creates a scene in which Barrie enters his room and Mary enters hers. Within Mary's room, everything looks typical. In Barrie's room, we see a lush, green forest (forests are often used to show imagination, aren't they?). Get it? Barrie is creative. Again, this qualifies as lazy filmmaking. Some may argue that this helps transport the audience into Barrie's world. I call that not challenging an audience, going for easy visuals, and setting the moment up as something people easily praise because, well, it "helps transport the audience into Barrie's world".
There's really nothing all that interesting happening within the story either. Every characterization is as typical and mundane as one can possibly get. Barrie is one of those protagonists who is Patch Adams-like in terms of his obviousness. Never is Barrie developed beyond the extremely nice, knowledgeable playwright who can only do good in life. I frankly don't care if that was exactly who Barrie was in real life; onscreen, it makes for nothing interesting. In fact, that potential is present within the film. There's one scene in which Barrie's possible pedophilia is brought into question. Then, just as quickly as that glimmer of interest came...poof, it vanished, and the disinterest continued.
Character is an extremely important aspect to a film. It keeps the audience members on their toes. If there was something slightly different about Barrie's character, a moment in which the filmmakers actually risk us not liking something Barrie does, that would have definitely justified one sitting in a dark cinema for two hours and finishing the film. In fact, presenting a character who has that flaw within is something people identify with more than the constantly saintly characters. That's because every human being is flawed; and the knowledge of that, even if it is only subconscious, causes that audience-to-character identification. It breaks the screen barrier, so to speak. It also makes any audience member who cares when filmmakers take a risk like that to smile. There are no smiles of that sort in Finding Neverland.
David Magee wrote the screenplay which is based on the play by Allan Knee. The dialogue is filled with the kind of cringe-worthy stuff of pseudo-inspirational cinema. Lots of "let your imaginations soar"-type dialogue, and scenes in which Barrie talks a lot about why those who oppose his personality are wrong and un-imaginative. Most of these scenes are often too talky, putting in dialogue when a simple action would suffice. And I swear, you can make a drinking game out of the number of times Barrie says the word "imagination". Beware though: you'll get drunk quickly.
Further idiocy includes that typical bio-pic cliche of everyone even slightly opposing the protagonist (even if most often they are right in doing so) being shown as stiff, evil individuals who seem like they have sticks shoved up their a*ses. In this film, we have Sylvia's mother who does this, and even Barrie's wife. In the case of the wife, she acts the way she does because Barrie neglects her in favour of another family. And.......she's being portrayed as the heavy because of this? Just look at the way the scenes which feature her are shot. Cold and emotionless. In editing, we normally cut to her when she's objecting to something Barrie does. And yes, she's shot mostly from a slightly low angle, something done here to imply evil and menace. We are meant to hate her character for even confronting our "saintly" protagonist even though it is Barrie's fault that she's become that way.
In the case of Sylvia's mother, she disagrees with Barrie's personality. Quite frankly, she's right to be stingy about the guy. This stranger comes into their family, shows a particularly frightening interest in Sylvia's children, and doesn't seem capable of taking anything seriously. No wonder she doesn't like Barrie. ANYONE in this situation would feel nervous about exposing their children to a man whose message actually seems to be "don't grow up and remain blissfully ignorant to life's dark side". These kinds of things should leave a very bad taste in one's mouth. Formula is acceptable up until the point that it becomes disturbing on a freakish level. I realise there's a need with these bio-pics to feature heavenly heroes who are right no matter what the situation. But when their being "right" involves the filmmakers trying to make us out and out hate two characters who are, in fact, the ones who are suffering because of Barrie is disgusting.
The film is flatly directed by Marc Forster. Most of the visuals imply that about two seconds of thought went into every camera set-up. Most times, the camera can be used well to show a characters' emotions. Here, Forster puts it in the most obvious places. When characters are sad, the scene is photographed from far away. If not quite that, the final shot before the closing fade out of each scene is photographed from far away. There's really nothing here to suggest that there was any emotion present during the making of the film. Every shot is bland, never giving us anything even remotely pretty at which to stare. Believe it or not, compelling visuals help pull the audience into a story. Even those who don't know what a camera is are subtly affected by the life within a shot. Here, the story is basic, thus the shots are basic. Nothing to help make our emotions rise beyond the level of disinterest.
I happen to have liked the cinematography that Roberto Schaefer effectively created for Marc Forster's previous film Monster's Ball. It looked amazing, and really helped an audience identify with the characters and the situation. Here? Not quite the same. Schaefer's work on Finding Neverland is so unbelievably boring, it practically makes one's eyes bleed to stare at it. This is a period piece, meaning lots of advantage for candlelit visuals, steamy windows, shafts of light. But no, nothing even remotely on that level. Light is often too bright for any situation, even when a scene shot in the dark is taking place. I wouldn't be surprised if the entire film was shot with every light in the room turned up as high as it could go. Finally, the cinematography pulls a lot of the cheap punches: sombre lighting during sad moments, bright lighting during happy moments, etc. Other films that I've loved have also done this, but those films were somehow subtle about it. This movie is simply awash in visual cliche, and never in a good fashion.
Honestly, I would love to say that the performances are good. I'm sad to report that even here the film shows how much of a technical exercise it is. Depp, as Barrie, is running completely on auto-pilot. It probably doesn't help that he's playing a character essentially written on auto-pilot, but I happen to think that if a character is bland on the page, it is up to the actor to add dimension. Depp doesn't do this. He stays completely one-note throughout, looking as if he is lacking any investment in the character. Really, his acting here feels...yeah, lazy. I wouldn't say that he's sleepwalking, just that he isn't doing much beyond going through the motions.
As for Kate Winslet playing Sylvia, she looks very nice, though appears to be a very shallow pond. Her acting, in other words, is horrible. Lots of over-emoting graces her work here. When she has to pretend to be dying from illness, she does this: puts a cough between every second word as if it were a period. When acting emotional, her face develops into the blankest of stares. It took me a few minutes to realise I wasn't staring at a log, and I'm usually perceptive about that sort of thing.
Julie Christie as Sylvia's mother and Radha Mitchell as Barrie's wife put on their best stiff faces to compliment their overly stiff characters. Thus, nothing exciting. And the child actors: Ho. Ly. Sh*t. What a bunch of anal-retentive impersonations of actual human beings. Just as there is a recent cliche in horror films that states that all children must say everything without emotion and in whispers, the same can be applied to this film. Suffering especially from this is Freddie Highmore as one of Sylvia's sons. Watching him trying to emote is stressful enough to cause a burst blood vessel. The kid's attempts at dramatic weight come off as typical, boring temper tantrums that are much more annoying than they are affecting. Only Dustin Hoffman as Barrie's producer Charles Frohman shines through with heart and warmth. I love this actor's work, as he is one of cinema's famous faces who actually lives up to his hype. In Finding Neverland, he's wonderful. Oh yeah, and he's only in the film for about five minutes.
Matt Chesse is the film's editor. Watching his work here makes me wonder if there was only one pass at cutting the movie. My goodness, is the editing typical. Most of the time, it's also choppy and forced. Chesse often cuts from wide shot to wide shot, close-up to close-up, and any number of cinematic no-nos that catch the eye in a bad way and reveal a rushed post-production. However, I must say that the movie, at least editing-wise, is never that boring. You won't be fidgeting that much, as the film does flow quite well. Still, dramatic scenes are poorly cut. Close-ups and wide shots are haphazardly used, which makes the audience realise they're watching a film more than what they are supposed to be reacting to in a scene.
The musical score for Finding Neverland was composed by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek. It is so syrupy that it will most likely inflict anyone listening to it with a fatal case of diabetes. There's nothing even remotely special about anything here. Never once does the audience get to experience what is happening onscreen for themselves, because the music rudely tells everyone watching exactly what to feel. There's no subtly here, no indication that the composer thought about what he was doing for even a second. He just put together an annoying concoction of every annoying bio-pic musical cliche. Each instrument usually blares at all times, as if things like varying volume levels and different musical ideas never existed. Truly sloppy, tiring work that insults the senses rather than stimulates them.I began this review intent on giving Finding Neverland three stars, because I remembered that I did enjoy it much when I saw it initially. That's the burden of watching brainless cinema pretending to be an interesting bio-pic and a thoughtful life lesson: think about it for more than a few seconds, and one will realise just how bad it actually is. So yeah, I now hate this film. I will forever hate this film. It is poorly acted, poorly directed, poorly written, poorly scored, poorly photographed...I believe a pattern is forming here. In the end, I'm glad most people typically found something in Finding Neverland. All I found was nothing worth anyone's precious time.
link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10919&reviewer=355
originally posted: 03/26/05 16:16:27
|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.