In Finding Neverland, Johnny Depp portrays playwright J.M. Barrie, most famous for writing “Peter Pan.” The film is intended to give a glimpse of the inspiration for Barrie’s story of the boy who never grows up.
Finding Neverland is a sweet movie, but I think some of the marketing (or lack thereof) must have missed the mark because a few people brought young children to the show. This movie is not really inappropriate for children–it features four young boys, after all–but for the most part, it would be boring for younger viewers. Finding Neverland is a mostly subtle story, set in the prim society of Victorian England. It is punctuated by flashes of Barrie’s surreal imagination, something that might for a moment entertain a child, but would only serve to confuse in the larger scheme of things. The fact that the movie also deals with death may be upsetting to any tots in the audience.
There’s very little humor in this movie; it’s all softness, and so it’s a good thing that the film is also a short one–too much would have been like gorging on cakes and cookies. Not that Finding Neverland is saccharine, but it has little real meat in it. For as much as was there, one feels that there is twice as much missing from the story.
Depp does a solid job, but Freddie Highmore is quickly identified as just as strong in his role as Peter Llewelyn Davies, one of four brothers that Barrie befriends. The Llewelyn Davies boys have lost their father, and their mother (played by Kate Winslet) struggles to keep the household running smoothly. She inherits some hinderance in the form of help when Barrie begins to make daily visits to play with the kids. Coming off a flop of a play, Barrie is inspired by his time with the boys to write “Peter Pan.”
All four of the young actors who play the Llewelyn Davies boys are charming; Nick Roud as the eldest brother has a couple good moments, and Luke Spill as the youngest provides most of the movie’s humor.
Overall, a worthwhile movie, although one could save it for a rental. There has been buzz for Depp as an Oscar contender, but with such strong competition this year, it’s difficult to say whether Finding Neverland has quite enough weight to it for that. Then again, the Academy is constantly finding reasons to give awards to movies I find less impressive, so maybe they’ll find Neverland in a way I could not.