A Reel View: Finding Neverland
A Reel View
by James M. Gullard
Nearly everyone who was once a child knows the story of "Peter Pan." What most people do not know is the story of Sir J.M. Barrie, the author of the play about a boy who never grows up. In "Finding Neverland," director Marc Forster gives us an insight into the world of the quiet playwright and his inspiration to create his most treasured tale.
The film opens with the premiere of "Little Mary," a failed play by Mr. Barrie (Johnny Depp). Waiting anxiously in the wings, he watches the crowd members shake their heads in disapproval and even sleep through his latest work. Once the reviews pour in and crown his play a flop, the author vows that he can do better.
The next day, Mr. Barrie spends the day at the park playing with his dog, hoping to find some sort of inspiration. It is then that he discovers the Davies family: newly widowed Sylvia (Kate Winslet) and her four young boys. Amused by the imaginative games they play, Mr. Barrie puts on a show for the family, entertaining all but Peter (Freddie Highmore), the son who has not yet recovered from the loss of his father.
Mr. Barrie returns home to his wife (Radha Mitchell), bouncing with excitement from the day's events, almost like a kid who has made a new friend. She remains patient with him, until he begins to spend all of his free time with the family, leading the boys in games centered around pirates and Indians.
The family welcomes the playwright, almost as if he was their new brother. However, Sylvia's mother Emma du Maurier (Julie Christie) is less accepting. The widow of novelist George du Maurier, Emma expresses great concern for her family. She wonders why Mr. Barrie is taking such an interest in the lives of her grandchildren, and why he does not seem to be interested in a relationship with her daughter. The rest of London eventually begins to ask the same questions.
But Mr. Barrie continues to spend time with the family, developing new ideas by the moment. He even encourages young Peter to express his emotions by writing his own plays. Finally, Mr. Barrie is ready to share his "Peter Pan" with the world, despite the reluctance of his producer (Dustin Hoffman) who feels that adult audiences will not care for a play about fairies and pirates.
From that moment on, the film is transported to a whole new level: one of magic, wonder, and awe. Mr. Barrie has 25 random seats left open so that he can invite orphan children to the show. Their delight and enthusiasm becomes so great, every adult in the audience becomes transported to a time when they were young and still believed that the world of make-believe was real.
Nominated for seven Academy Awards, Forster's "Finding Neverland" is a beautiful film. The acting is excellent, from Depp's quirky yet lonely portrayal of Barrie to Highmore's incredible performance as the emotionally unstable Peter. While the story may be a tad on the sappy side, it does not seem to matter. This film makes the audience realize, much like the audience in the film, that magic can be real and that, no matter how old we are, we never fully lose our ability to believe in that magic.
"Finding Neverland" will be released on DVD on March 22.