Finding Neverland

When you’re a kid, everything seems possible. The world is a magical place full of mysteries and adventures, waiting for you to play in it from when you wake up in the morning until your mommy sends you to bed at night. Then one day, suddenly, the child has grown, the dream is gone, you’ve become comfortably numb.

Still, there are those who never truly grow up and remain children at heart: J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan, Johnny Depp, Michael Jackson… All these boyish men play a part in “Finding Neverland”, except Jacko for obvious reasons. If the film had been made in the ‘80s, the King of Pop would have been a good choice to write a few songs for the movie, but his love of youth is now frowned upon. I don’t know if Jackson is guilty or not of the horrible things he’s been accused of, but it’s a fact that people always find it suspicious when grown men enjoy the company of young boys.

This comes up in the film, which depicts the friendship between Scottish playwright Barrie (Depp) and the Llewelyn Davies children and the way their fun-loving and mischief-making inspired him to write “Peter Pan, Or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up”. Barrie’s intentions are irreproachable, but some still manage to question it, notably the boys’ grandmother (Julie Christie) and Barrie’s wife (Radha Mitchell). Their marriage has desperately cooled off, and his endless escapades with the boys and their beautiful widowed mother Sylvia (Kate Winslet) don’t help matters.

The film is at his best when it plays on the kids’ level, unsurprisingly. I loved all the scenes in the park or in the Llewelyn Davies backyard where Barrie and the brothers invent all sorts of make-believe games involving pirates, Indians and his St. Bernard. Depp is charmingly eccentric and the young actors are adorable. In these moments, “Finding Neverland” is like a cross between the fantasy of Big Fish and the childlike sense of wonder of In America. The middle part of the movie is less whimsical, as it focuses more on “serious” stuff (Sylvia’s illness, Barrie’s marital problems, etc.). Fortunately, the third act manages to nicely tie the magic of imagination with the sometimes harsher reality, as the wildly successful premiere of “Peter Pan” is brought home to Sylvia and the boys, quite literally. I saw the Tinker Bell scene coming from a mile away, but it still moved me.

“Finding Neverland” couldn’t be more different than director Marc Forster’s breakthrough film, the much darker Monster’s Ball, but the two films share a special attention to actors and a natural understanding of the possibilities of cinema.