1903 London. Renowned playwright J.M. Barrie (James)'s latest effort has garnered less than positive reviews, something he knew would be the case even before the play's mounting. This failure places pressure on James to write another play quickly as impresario Charles Frohman needs another to replace the failure to keep his theater viable. Out for a walk with his dog in part to let his creative juices flow, James stumbles upon the Llewelyn Davies family: recently widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (the daughter of now deceased author George L. Du Maurier) and her four adolescent sons. James and the family members become friends, largely based on he and the boys being able to foster in each other the imagination of children, James just being the biggest among them in this regard. Sylvia also welcomes James into their lives, he who becomes an important and integral part of it. Among the six of them, the only one who does not want to partake is Sylvia's third, Peter Llewelyn Davies, who is ...Written by
10 Stars! If you see no other movie this year, see this one!,
FINDING NEVERLAND is that rare work of art that transcends the medium of film and becomes a spirit-altering experience. Strong accolades? Gush? Perhaps so, but squeeze time out of the clutter of life and the holidays to see this movie and be transported to a place that nurturingly reassures us that the cycle of life is indeed good. Find Neverland!Marc Forster ('Monster Ball') has created a lovingly tender look at the playwright JM Barrie (Johnny Depp) in 1903 when, down on his luck with theater flops, unfulfilled by a marriage of Victorian standards to a beautiful but aloof and social climbing wife Mary (Radha Mitchell), and with writer's block, he encounters the Llewellyn Davies family - a widow Sylvia (Kate Winslet) and her four boys, George (Nick Roud), Jack (Joe Prospero), Michael (Luke Spill) and Peter (Freddie Highmore) - playing blissfully in Kensington Gardens. Barrie is captivated, draws the boys to him with his patient and infectious enthusiasm for play, and bonds with this family, gaining the obvious seeds for his highest achievement or creation, PETER PAN.How these seeds grow, despite the soft, yet supportive, growling of his producer Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman) and the not so soft interference of Sylvia's wealthy haughty mother Madame du Maurier (Julie Christie), form the storyline of this film. The magic comes from the skill of the writers (Alan Knee and David Magee) and director, the cinematographer (never has Victorian London glowed with such elegant gaslight presence), and the musical score by Jan Kaczmarek. Cameo roles are treated with tremendous respect: Eileen Essel as Mrs. Snow, Ian Hart as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Kelly MacDonald as the first Peter Pan, etc all are brief but fully realized and poignant. Given this support it is obvious that the talents of the lead performers will shine, and they glow they do with such understated performances that make the simple story of the sanctity of the inner child so cogent that there is not a dry eye in the house during the thankfully long credits. Johnny Depp continues to prove that he is one of the finest actors on the screen today: his Barrie has a flawless Scottish accent and a manner of movement and facial expressions that make him a gentle hero. Kate Winslet, never more beautiful, likewise embodies Sylvia with exactly the right amount of perk and pathos, and as her mother, Julie Christie is strikingly beautiful and unfailingly solid in a role less than loving. The boys are artfully recreated, never absurdly over the top, always very close to the bridge that crosses the craggy canyon between childhood and adulthood. Growing up has never been better portrayed - by all of the characters!In a time when too often films that address magic and imagination rely on computer effects to create creatures that are comic book absurd, FINDING NEVERLAND relies on simply showing the stage mechanics of the play, suspending wires and all, even in the climax of the story when Barrie brings his successful play to the living room of the ill Sylvia in order to keep his promise to her to take her to Neverland. No gimmicks here, just solid stagecraft very much in keeping with the inherent magic of Barrie's enduring play. This is a brilliant cinematic accomplishment - a feast for the eyes, the ears, the brain, and the soul. Please don't miss it! Grady Harp, November 2004
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