Monday, August 29, 2005

Finding Neverland

2004, US/GB, directed by Marc Forster

Perhaps director Marc Forster found Monster's Ball as exhausting as I did, for this is a startlingly different project, filled with whimsy, and the most chaste of interactions between the main couple. There's a poignant, even tragic, undercurrent, but the core of the film is bright and hopeful, like J.M. Barrie's own key creation, Peter Pan. The film introduces us to Barrie on the eve of his professional nadir, a play that flops badly, leaving him casting about for inspiration, and his main patron calling in financial favours. Into his life comes a ready-made family of fatherless young boys (and their mother, Kate Winslet), a distraction from his own unhappy home life, although his interactions with the boys are anything but conventional. The film briefly raises the spectre of a less pleasant side to Barrie's unusually playful relationship with the four boys, only to dismiss it absolutely (Michael Jackson may wish that he had been so lucky). There's much to like here, not least the acting: Depp is charming, with a light Scottish burr that never distracts, and while Winslet can do this kind of thing in her sleep, she's no less appealing for that. The standout among the children is Freddie Highmore, a startlingly self-possessed 10-year-old when the film was made. As Peter, a child wrapped up in grief for his dead father, he walks away with several difficult scenes (the film plays pretty loose with the historical record on this point, since Peter's father was alive and well when Peter Pan had its premiere). By contrast, there's a rather schematic relationship between reality and artistic inspiration - and certainly little sense of artistic struggle - but then this is fantasy rather than social realism.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States