Monday, November 01, 2004

POPCORN REVIEW: "Finding Neverland"

Like Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella, Peter Pan is one of those stories that hits right at the heart of many and so reflects a particular part of human condition that it is eternal. It, like great drama and literature, lives outside of context and ownership. Finding Neverland though puts "Pan" back in it original context and introduces us to it's "owner", playwrite J. M. Barrie.

Finding Neverland - 7/10

This is one of those films, while not particularly failing anywhere, doesn't ascend to the greatness for which it seamed destined. Also, unlike most films that crawl through the first act then in turn rush through the third, "Neverland" doesn't hit it's stride until the third act. We're pushed immediately into a relationships that we accept but don't have the chance to witness the development. The film isn't necessarily weak, but I guess my expectations were out of place. I was looking for a bio pic and instead saw only a glimpse of Barrie. The relationship he has with women could have vastly been expanded as it is very complex. I particularly sided with his wife Mary, played by Rahda Mitchell, who I feel deserved more attention in the film. The character felt the same when she laments to be included in her husbands life wanting to be part of the story. As for Barrie's "other women", any relationship or lack of one with Mrs. Davies (Kate Winslet) was merely hinted upon instead of answered. Was or wasn't there a relationship? What did it become? In it's unwillingness to deal with the core relationships in play, "Neverland" adapts the Victorian values of the world in which it's set.

The Great: The costuming, music, and cinematography were top notch both playful and refined. Rahda Mitchell, Julie Christie, and Kate Winslet stole this film from Johnny Depp. The women brilliantly played repressed and passionate all at the same time. Even though at this point most of us are used to seeing Winslet displaying her powerhouse acting ability in gorgeous period clothing, we shouldn't forget how great she really is. She sings, tap dances, and she's married to Sam Mendes! Who we aren't used to seeing so great so often is Rahda Mitchell (Fabulous and Australian). Neverland should be break for which she's been patiently been working and waiting.

The Good: Speaking of great expectations... Was this the role of a lifetime for Johnny Depp? Not at all. Depp is perfect in character he assumes, but this is not the role that breaks apart from the rest. While maybe not as a clean cut and devilishly handsome in previous roles, this does not ascend above and beyond other parts of his resume. Again, as with Winslet, he's so great so often, we might set the bar too high and not recognize his talent. Still, this is not the defining point of his career. In a story about men, the women stole the show from Depp again and again in every scene. On a sidenote, why was Dustin Hoffman there? It was a waste of a great actor (and I kept thinking of him as Capt. Hook).

As a whole, "Neverland" felt like the shell of a story that wasn't explored nearly to point which it should have been. I imagine it worked very well as a play, but the screen adaptation of "The Man Who Was Peter Pan" didn't go far enough. The film itself was as clean and rigid filled with suggestion over observation never breaking through Victorian sense and sensibilities. The major problem with Neverland is that the excellent elements can't seem to pick up the problems. On the edge of greatness, "Neverland" never gets off the ground.

Thanks Darren for the advance screening.


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