Finding Neverland
directed by Marc Forster
(Miramax, 2004)

There's something irresistible to a stymied writer: a muse.

And Finding Neverland, the remarkable film that was nominated for seven Academy Awards, recognizes that to find a muse is nothing short of falling irretrievably in love.

The story of J.M. Barrie's creation of Peter Pan has been tinkered with a bit; the timeline of actual history has been altered, yet it all works to create a lovely movie that takes a long look at what it means to grow up, at the power of imagination and at the ways imagination can save us when the inevitable "growing up" occurs.

Much of the reason Finding Neverland's remarkable naivete works is the power of Johnny Depp. As Barrie, he makes a playwright who becomes obsessed after a chance meeting with a widow and her four lonely boys -- not in the way today's headlines would have us worry -- but as an earnest interest that soon becomes much like a chaste love affair. The boys strike at something in Barrie's heart -- as does Sylvia, their mother (Kate Winslet) -- and Barrie is soon more a part of their household than his own.

Understandably, his wife Mary (Radha Mitchell) is irked. And his theatrical producer, Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman) is on the edge of tearing his hair out after Barrie's latest flop.

Soon Barrie is pulling slowly, bit by bit, from his time with the boys and their mother to create his greatest turn of imagination: Peter Pan, the boy who will never grow up, the boy who heroically stands up to Captain Hook, the boy who loves Wendy but cannot make her stay.

Screenwriter David Magee took a play by Allan Knee and has molded it into something that glows onscreen, a chance for Depp and Winslet to show how passionate and moving an understated piece of acting can be.

Matching Depp and Winslet isn't easy, but an eerily gifted performance by Freddie Highmore as Peter, Sylvia's son who most closely bonds with Barrie, is amazing. His rapport with Depp is palpable and, when he's left alone onscreen to work his way through scenes of pain or discovery, it's impossible to look away. (At Depp's request, Highmore also acted opposite him to lead Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.)

Easily one of my favorite films of the year, Finding Neverland has a resonance and a churning emotion just spilling over the surface.

It's that cusp between joy and sorrow, between childhood and the responsibilities of adulthood, that both Peter Pan and Finding Neverland tread. And it's the knowledge that time tick-tocks on, that we all will pass, that makes Finding Neverland such a bittersweet treasure.

by Jen Kopf
12 November 2005

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