Finding Neverland (2004)

I love the story of Peter Pan, I love the legend and myth, I love the allegory Peter Pan represents, and I love the peanut butter. Peter Pan was always my favorite story as a child simply because it was a young boy who could fly and fight, fighting a man twice his size who had a hook for a hand, it was great! But on the other hand, Pan was a deeper symbol for childhood and having to grow up and let go of childish things.

“Finding Neverland” doesn’t tell of Peter Pan, but is more of a fantastic biographical account of J.M. Barrine’s adult life and his eventual development of his most famous tome, Peter Pan. Barrie hides in a fantasy world while he faces his own unhappy reality that is constantly plaguing him and Barrie is pictured, as they all are, as an eccentric, but a genius, a madman who knew how to create art. Barrie is not pictured as a playwright who was looking for a hit play, instead, writer Allan Knee presents Barrie in the light of a denotative grown child who hides in his fantasies and flights of fancies to constantly hide from his unhappy marriage (Radha Mitchell, who gives a great performance). However when he meets a widow and her young boys, his life is suddenly changed. Director Forster creates such a beautiful film that both grounds itself in Barrie’s reality while flashing back and forth between his real life and his fantasies in which he shares with the boys.

Barrie quickly takes a fondness to the family of Sylvia and her sons and seeks to introduce a sense of magic to their world that they lost when their father passed away, and he becomes most determined to bring magic in to the life of the cynical cold son Peter. Forster presents different shades as the movie goes on from the bright airy fantasies to the dark and often pale realities of Barrie who isn’t really sure where his loyalties lie, but he does give a sheer obsession with creating magic. In the film, Barrie is struggling to create a hit play for his investor Frohman who is desperate for a return of his lost money on Barrie’s past plays or else he must fire him. Hoffman gives a very good performance as the often jaded Frohman who is just often astounded at Barrie’s willingness to think big and possibly waste much more of his money on his plays. I just loved how the writer makes Peter the more cynical of the brothers whose deep rooted cynicism traces back to his past where he’s managed to grow up so quickly whether he likes it or not.

The other brothers are presented with much of the same indignation except they manage to accept Barrie’s bond and welcome magic in to their lives, that is until Sylvia falls ill. The film is much more than just profiling an artist, it’s also the tale of a man seeking to keep the magic in his life and is forced to deal with problems of reality whether he likes it or not, while finally coming upon his career making production that opened the doors for so much in the theater world that was once an elitist class event to transforming into a multi-faceted art form. The film also has a big heart with a lot of very sweet emotions and weird fantasy sequences the show the inner machinations of Barrie’s world and what he pictures. Barrie is the man who refuses to grow up lest he lose the magic that kept him alive and risk becoming bitter, yet is forced to by the utterly heartbreaking climax.

Meanwhile, as the film does give a representation of the mind behind “Peter Pan” it does also give some brand new insight in to the story and allegory of Peter Pan the character and the play while we’re introduced to some funny behind-the-scenes sequences in the makings of the first ever production of the play. This will be a no-brainer comment, but Depp does manage to pull in another excellent performance as Barrie and just immerses himself in the role of Barrie making us believe he’s this man who is just a grown child. He can adapt from mature socialite to immature childish nut job who loves to engage in fantastic scenarios with kids to bring magic in to their lives. Sylvia, played with elegance and beauty by the equally excellent Kate Winslet, allows Barrie in to their lives because he manages to fulfill something she can’t, but is met with much difficulty from her over-protective, overbearing mother played by the scene stealing Julie Christie. Most of the story just relies on raw human emotion allowing us to relate to these characters and their situation and introducing a little magic in to our lives as well.

Barrie, in the end, uses magic and fantasy to soften the hard blow of life for the better helping the children develop without denying them the hardships of what is happening to them at that very moment. The film is utterly heartbreaking without being manipulative. Admittedly, it gave me a giant lump in my throat on many occasions. I’m man enough to admit when a film nearly made me cry like my momma slapped my bottom (Did I just ruin the moment?). The last half of the film is possibly one of the best finales I’ve seen in years when everything comes to fruition as it’s supposed to. As Barrie finally creates his masterpiece it’s a bittersweet event as real life interjects. It’s genius how we see the kids experience fantasy while Barrie must face reality and it’s played well with enough wonder to jerk a tear. And while, Forster creates such a large production and fantastic tale, the finale is such an ardent, simplistic one, but within its simplicity lies the coherent genius. Instead of yet another fantastic sequence, the movie ends on a downbeat, a simple exit for such a heartfelt, beautiful film, and one of the best dramas I’ve seen in years.

Where was Dustin Hoffman? Why is Dustin Hoffman billed when he only appears for a small portion of the time? One of my main motivations for watching this film was considering the fact that Dustin Hoffman, one of my favorite actors of all time was in it and he’s barely in this film serving a miniscule role as Depp’s confidant who doesn’t really give a real sense of relevance. Hoffman’s screen time is sorely short and his presence is very lacking which could have helped the film in the long run achieve it’s four star rating. Sadly enough he’s barely in this, at least not as much as I’d have liked, and that’s a true shame. Despite grossly under-using the talents of Dustin Hoffman, this is possibly one of the most heartfelt and beautiful dramas in years with excellent performances, an engrossing story, and a climax that will surely bring its audience to tears as it did me. This is truly a masterpiece supported by its master cast.


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