Hot off his recent Academy Award nomination, Johnny Depp’s follow up to last year’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is none other than Finding Neverland. Originally slated for a release last Christmas, the then titled J.M. Barrie’s Neverland was shelved to avoid going head to head with the latest adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s greatest work, Peter Pan. The film’s sidetracking might very well benefit Depp come Oscar time, because once again Johnny succeeds in delivering a fantastic performance. This time he won’t have Sean Penn to compete with come February.
Once playwright James Barrie’s (Johnny Depp) latest production flops, producer Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman) commissions Barrie to get writing again, and this time to write a hit. A sunny day in the park later, Barrie runs into the young boys of the Llewelyn Davies family and begins to entertain them and their mother, Sylvia (Kate Winslet). Hypnotized by the family, Barrie begins to spend more and more time with them, making Barrie’s own wife Mary (Radha Mitchell) all the more melancholy at his absence. As Barrie’s relationship with the Llewelyn Davies boys grows, most notably with eight-year-old Peter (Freddie Highmore), he sabotages his marriage and has most of London’s socialites thinking he’s a pedophile. It is then that he begins writing again. This time what he’s writing is the play he is best known for, Peter Pan.
Take all the really good parts of Shakespeare in Love and Big Fish, put it in a blender, and the end result is Finding Neverland. Screenwriter David Magee spins the web of this tale so fluidly that you’ll think he has been writing scripts for years. You’d be wrong, this is his first. Director Marc Forster, best known for directing Halle Berry in her Oscar winning role in Monster’s Ball, comes alive in this flick. His enchanting way of putting this film together even had me, the cynical no nonsense New Yorker, thinking happy happy thoughts. I would not be surprised if either Magee or Forster some notable recognition for this movie.
Johnny Depp is always brilliant, even in a bunch of bad films. Yet it is only when he’s great in a great movie that he gets some notoriety from it. That’ll no doubt be the case this November when Finding Neverland opens. Depp dons a Scottish brogue, (which really sounds more Irish) in this endeavor and there isn’t one moment when you doubt his character. He loses himself in every role and shakes off the “movie star” moniker that other actors like Tom Cruise can never seem get around. They say that Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman got their Oscars for Gladiator and The Hours as pity presents for their The Insider and Moulin Rouge snubs. Well if Johnny Depp takes home that golden phallus for Finding Neverland it will no doubt be for his portrayal of J.M. Barrie rather than an Academy apology for something Captain Jack Sparrow “may have deserved”.
The rest of the cast does very good jobs as well. Hoffman does well in his supporting role, but not as good as Winslet. Kate Winslet’s best work this year may have been in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but her portrayal of “Sylvia”, the penniless widowed mother of four boys, is something worth noting. All the boys do fine jobs, but of course Freddie Highmore stands out. I think Hollywood may have found the new Haley Joel Osment. If this kid doesn’t tug on your heartstrings or move you in some way when you see the second half of the movie then I’m sorry, you don’t have a soul. Apparently Depp too saw something in Highmore. So much so that he convinced Tim Burton to hire him for the title role in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
This film is Oscar bait in every sense of the term, only not in a bad way. All the awards junk aside, Finding Neverland is a really good movie. It is heart warming, easy to get lost within it, and without a doubt will make you make you regret “growing up”. If you don’t leave the theatre with some kind of smile on your face, then seek help.