Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review: Johnny Depp Puts His Foot in "Finding Neverland" (Happy B'day, Johnny Depp)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 249 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Finding Neverland (2004)
Running time: 106 minutes (1 hour, 46 minutes)
MPAA – PG for mild thematic elements and brief language
DIRECTOR: Marc Forster
WRITER: David Magee (based upon the play The Man Who was Peter Pan by Allan Knee)
PRODUCERS: Nellie Bellflower and Richard N. Gladstein
EDITOR: Matt Chesse
Academy Award winner

DRAMA with elements of fantasy

Starring: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Radha Mitchell, Dustin Hoffman, Freddie Highmore, Joe Prospero, Nick Roud, Luke Spill, Ian Hart, and Kelly Macdonald

Finding Neverland is set in London in 1904 and follows dramatist Sir James Matthew (J.M.) Barrie’s (Johnny Depp) creative process and journey in writing the stage drama that would bring Peter Pan, one of the most beloved creations of children’s stories, to life. Barrie’s inspiration begins when he meets a widow, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet), and her four young sons: Jack (Joe Prospero), George (Nick), Michael (Luke Spill), and Peter (Freddie Highmore), the one to whom Barrie feels closest. Barrie becomes an intimate friend of Sylvia and the boys, so he visits them often and plays games with the boys.

However, his relationship with the Davies starts ugly rumors in London, according to Barrie’s friend, Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Ian Hart). Barrie’s wife, Mary (Radha Mitchell), is a bit envious of James’ relationship with the Davies, and Sylvia’s mother, Mrs. Emma du Maurier (Julie Christie), thinks Barrie’s relationship with Sylvia is keeping her daughter from getting a new husband. Barrie, of course, remains close with the Davies, even as Sylvia becomes gravely ill. Her sons, who’ve already lost their father, are worried, especially Peter who still feels that his parents lied to him when his father was dying. Still, they all soldier on until Peter Pan premieres at the Duke of York Theatre and changes all their lives.

Although the film and the screenplay’s source (a play by Allan Knee) play loose with history (Sylvia’s husband Arthur was alive and well when Peter Pan premiered and the couple had five sons, although the fifth was born around the time of the play’s premiere), Finding Neverland is a spectacular reinvention of J.M. Barrie’s journey in creating Peter Pan. Both the Peter Pan stage play and subsequent novel are rife with issues of death, eternal youth, boyhood, and the loss of loved ones. Finding Neverland tackles those themes without blinking, yet the film isn’t morbid or peculiar. Director Marc Forster and screenwriter David Magee have the characters navigate their way through the difficult times in life with brave faces.

I’m amazed by the fact that this film avoids easy answers when it comes to dealing with the loss of loved ones and also by the fact that Forster doesn’t turn his story by turning on the water works. Finding Neverland is never sentimental or overly emotional, although that can be a bit of a problem; at times, this film’s mood is too stiff, cold, and formal. Forster, who made the searing 2001 drama Monster’s Ball, makes this film too severe for most of the first half. Early on, Finding Neverland seems to lumber, and this makes the actors come across an amateurs delivering dry, wooden dialogue. Forster’s picture really doesn’t come together until late in the second act.

For all Forster’s trouble with narrative rhythm in this film, he does allow his entire cast to come into their own. Every actor gives a fine performance and contributes something meaningful to the story’s outcome. Johnny Depp’s performance has gotten most of the attention since this film debuted. He shines in his scenes with Julie Christie as Barrie’s wife and with Freddie Highmore as Peter Llewelyn Davies, but his finest moments are the times he quietly and subtly tells the tale of Barrie’s imagination. His eyes are like windows into Barrie’s interior worlds.

When Forster and Magee bring to life Barrie’s imagination for either the characters or the audience to experience, Depp’s face takes on that look of wonder that has captivated audiences in Depp’s collaborations with director Tim Burton, such as Ed Wood or Sleepy Hollow. However, having grown as an actor, Depp makes Barrie a man who still remembers and understands the fears, mysteries, and wonders of childhood without making his Barrie a stereotype such as the childlike man, the man child, or the man with a sense of “childlike wonder.” Depp’s performance carries this movie and makes the essence of Neverland real in Finding Neverland.

7 of 10

2005 Academy Awards: 1 win: “Best Original Score” (Jan A.P. Kaczmarek); 6 nominations: “Best Picture” (Richard N. Gladstein and Nellie Bellflower), “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (Johnny Depp), “Best Adapted Screenplay” (David Magee), “Best Art Direction” (Gemma Jackson-art director and Trisha Edwards-set decorator), “Best Costume Design” (Alexandra Byrne), and “Best Film Editing” (Matt Chesse)

2005 BAFTA Awards: 11 nominations: “Anthony Asquith Award for Film” (Music Jan A.P. Kaczmarek), “Best Cinematography” (Roberto Schaefer), “Best Costume Design’ (Alexandra Byrne), “Best Film” (Richard N. Gladstein and Nellie Bellflower), “Best Make Up/Hair” (Christine Blundell), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (Johnny Depp), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Kate Winslet), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Julie Christie), “Best Production Design” (Gemma Jackson), “Best Screenplay – Adapted” (David Magee), and “David Lean Award for Direction” (Marc Forster)

2005 Golden Globes: 5 nominations: “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Marc Forster), “Best Motion Picture – Drama,” “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (Jan A.P. Kaczmarek), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Johnny Depp), and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (David Magee)


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