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Finding Neverland - Movie Review

There is a scene in 'Finding Neverland', where James Barrie, a playwright in his thirties tries to entertain a mother and her four sons in a park. He waltzes with his dog and wants his audience to imagine a bear in place of the dog, and a ballroom in place of the park. While the mother and three of her sons find it hilarious, Peter Davies, a boy of 8 or 9 years old finds Barrie's act downright absurd.

This scene, to me, sums up the essence of the movie. Barrie, is a man who remains a boy, who never wanted to grow up and remained pure and naive at heart. Peter Davies has never been a boy. He has always been a wise 'young man' in a child's body. The movie goes on to explore how the relationship between James and Peter sparks 'Peter Pan', now a world famous literary work, about a boy who never grows up.

The movie, taking place in London in 1903, starts with the opening of Barrie's play, a bomb at the box. He is creatively bankrupt. His wife doesn't seem to be helping him emotionally. But the child he is, Barrie does not seem to be much worried about the outcome of the play, but he is concerned about his creative block. One day he chances upon the Davies' family in a park. Sylvia Davies is a recent widow and mother of four young boys. Somehow, by entertaining them, he finds his creative block melting away. And he begins chronicling the playfulness of the boys in a fantasy land called 'Neverland'.

While he spends long afternoons with the Davies' family in his summer cottage, Barrie's wife and Sylvia's mother suspect if anything is transpiring between James and Sylvia. Remember, this is early 20th century in England, where there was a rigid social code for how people should walk and talk and dine and wine. Since Barrie never bothers to restrict himself to those rules and Sylvia along with her boys enjoy Barrie's company, the suspicion grows strong.

Oblivious to the rigors of the society, Barrie continues to have fun with the family. The only misfit seems to be Peter. He thinks beyond what he can see. Initially, he wonders if Barrie is trying to replace his father. That creates a mental block and distances him from Barrie. Barrie understands this and accommodates and respects Peter's feelings towards him. Towards the end of the film, Peter grows up to understand Barrie's intentions and accepts him.

Johnny Depp, the incredibly talented actor plays James Barrie. To prove his range of acting, he has played a pirate, a crank, a doctor, a detective and now a playwright and everytime he has displayed astonishing deftness in handling the roles. He lost the Oscar to Jamie Foxx. Kate Winslet plays Sylvia Davies and she is rock solid as the mother, who understands her limitations in her relationship with Barrie and delivers a commendable performance. But the standout actor is Freddie Highmore as Peter Davies. He delivers a wonderfully controlled performance that is alone worth the price of admission. Scenes of interaction between Depp and Highmore are gems of acting to be treasured. Dustin Hoffman plays a cameo role as the producer of J.M.Barrie's plays.

The director is Marc Forster, whose last outing was Monster's Ball. The movie is much gentler in it's approach and not as touching or powerful as Monster's Ball. Roberto Schaefer is the photographer. I've seen movies where England/Scotland is glamorously picturised for the screen. Here, there is a not a single freeze-frame scene and every shot is unglamorous. That probably could be the director's decision, to keep the audience focussed on storyline and performances. David Magee, wrote the screenplay based on the book 'The Man Who Was Peter Pan' by Alan Knee, and was nominated for Oscar in the adapted screenplay category. Matt Chesse is the editor and there are definitely some places he missed where the movie seemed to be dragging into unrequired sub-plots (But, he was nominated for an Oscar!!). Jan Kaczmarek's music is soothing and beautifully aided the flow of the screenplay. He won the Oscar for original score.

Though there are a few loopholes and feels dragged a bit, I recommend the movie for it's strong performances and gentle approach.

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