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Monday, November 29, 2004
I would have expected Johnny Depp's new movie, Finding Neverland, to be a complete disaster at the box office. The film was delayed from last year in order to prevent clashing with a big-budget Peter Pan adaptation. Since then, a certain Pan- obsessed pop superstar was brought up on child molestation charges. Given the film's already unnerving subject matter, wouldn't audiences correlate the two and avoid it like the plague?
Nope. Instead Finding Neverland opened to favorable reviews and had the second highest per-screen average in the country over the holiday weekend.
Depp stars as JM Barrie, the author of the novel. Working in London as a playwright, his latest work flops and, instead of spending more time with his wife or working on new material, he hooks up with the sons of Slyvia Davies, a recent widow (Kate Winslet). Instead of avoiding their friendship's undertones, the movie draws attention to them. Davies' elderly mother raises an eyebrow after discovering a full-grown stranger playing "cowboys and indians" with her grandchildren.
Barrie's wife is equally perturbed but Finding Neverland doesn't dwell too long on their unusual relationship, instead focusing on the innocent, imaginary world that would provide fodder for Peter Pan. Johnny Depp, toning things down from his beyond over the top role in The Pirates of the Caribbean, tries his best but Finding Neverland is focused purely on filling the screen with sap. Every scene is a pull at the heart strings and the whole thing feels like a made-for-Hallmark TV movie. Dustin Hoffman's curmudgeonly financer receives limited screentime in favor of mourning children, a dying mother and an army of adorable orphans. The ambitious production is further limited by a low budget, which drags down moments centered in Barrie's make-believe pirate ships and western towns.
The script also shies from another part of the true story. According to IMDB, Davies' husband was alive throughout Barrie's encounters with their children and was even there for the play's opening night. While the movie deserves kudos for skillfully addressing and side-stepping an unnerving topic, it's altogether too banal and sentimental. As the film's character rolled from one schmaltzy scene to another, I was left wondering if Davies' children ever grew up and sued Barrie for residuals for their role in devising Peter Pan's mythology.
6 magical pixies on clap-fueled life support out of 10.