directed by Joshua Michael Stern
(Miramax, 2005)

"All that I know that's worth a damn is in these pages." - T.L. Pearson

Just about all Dr. Zach Riley (Aaron Eckhart) knows about his author/father T.L. Pearson (Nick Nolte) is that the protagonist in the children's fantasy novel he wrote, Neverwas, bore his name. His father killed himself almost 25 years before after spending time in Mill Wood, a mental institution.

When Zach hears about a job at Mill Wood, he quits his prestigious research job at Cornell and applies, and he won't take no for an answer despite warnings from Dr. Peter Reed's (William Hurt) that the AMA doesn't even consider the institute worthy of research funding, and most of the patients are nonfunctional and under-insured.

Zach accepts a month's probationary period with no benefits after telling Dr. Reed a small lie -- that he had a "friend" at Mill Wood and the treatment he received hadn't worked. Reed has no way of knowing Zach's true identity since he'd abandoned his father's name for his mother's maiden name long ago.

"I know it's you," Gabriel Finch (Ian McKellen) tells Zach when they first meet. He'd never said a word to a therapist in his 40-year psychiatric history until he saw Zach. Gabriel seems to believe a spell was cast on Zach, and he doesn't remember who he is or what he is supposed to do -- and that, in a very little amount of time.

Neverwas went straight from the can to DVD despite an amazing cast. Eckhart and McKellen are both brilliant -- and there's far too little screen time for William Hurt. The acting is the best part of the story.

The problem is, Neverwas really doesn't quite have a niche. It's not precisely a fantasy as it's billed or a psychodrama.

The music is a bit annoying. The quick, two-note piano with strings seemed overwrought after awhile and was just wearing.

So -- why see the film? "Stories come to the storyteller and not the other way around," said Thomas Pearson in one part of the film. Writers will be interested in the mystery of how the novel Neverwas came to be.

Fans of psychological films like The 9th Configuration may also love this story. It's a profile of not just mental illness, but what motivations drive a person into the mental health field.

My suggestion is you rent this film before you buy it. You may not want or need to see Neverwas again, but for the price of a rental, it's an interesting and inspiring way to spend a quiet afternoon.

review by
Becky Kyle

26 April 2008

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