FINDING NEVERLAND is one of those movies that feels kind of like a remedial imagination class they force you to take on Saturdays because you fucked up. You may not know this, it tells you, but it turns out imagination is important and magical and all that kind of crap. Johnny Depp plays J.M. Barrie, the writer of Peter Pan. The movie starts the same as ED WOOD, he’s the writer of some flop play that the audience already hates literally about 2 seconds after it starts. It’s the first line of dialogue and a dude is already asleep.
So J.M. needs to imagination up his life somehow to inspire him to write Peter Pan, and luckily he runs into a widow (Kate Winslet) and her spunky kids (a bunch of kids) while he’s walking his novelty oversized dog. Next thing you know he’s hanging out with the kids, dressing up in silly costumes and imagining stuff with them. They’re still pretty bummed about their dad dying so he has to teach them to have a childlike sense of wonder, etc.
I mean it’s a good sentiment but I think the whole thing is too broad. It’s one of those movies where it’s supposed to be real life but they got Darth Vader style villains. Both J.M. and his new surrogate family have to deal with a crusty old bitch who just doesn’t understand the power of imagination, et al. J.M.’s always gotta put up with his social climbing wife, and Kate Winslet’s gotta deal with her rich old bitch of a mother bossing her around. There’s no need to argue, parents just don’t understand.
When J.M. imagines stuff it appears on screen, but usually in play form, since he’s a playwright. I got pretty confused at first because he’s dancing with his dog and telling the kids it’s a bear. Suddenly he’s in the middle of a fake circus with a painted audience, dancing with a guy in a fake looking bear costume. So the kids are imagining that the dog is really a guy in a bear costume? What kind of a fantasy is that?
For a movie about the power of fantasy, most of the fantasy sequences are pretty light on the visual imagination. One exception is a scene on a pirate ship that has some pretty nice looking theatrical waves and sharks around it.
Maybe this will illustrate what’s wrong with this movie. There’s one part where J.M. and his wife both walk through doors at the same time, and the wife’s door leads into a room, while J.M.’s leads into an imaginary beautiful outdoors. They oughta just leave it at that and it would work, but the movie doesn’t trust you to understand how magical it is. So they put an orchestral twinklety-twinklety-twee on the soundtrack for you. Listen up class, it’s magical imagination and dreams and everything, that’s what’s through that door, that’s what it means.
Also there’s a scene where Kate Winslet coughs, and I thought oh shit, it’s gonna be that kind of movie. Why is it that nobody ever just has a cold in a movie? If you cough even once, you’re dead meat. I wonder if anybody knows of movies that have coughing in them where the person who coughs doesn’t turn out to have cancer or pneumonia or some other horrible disease? Let me know if you can think of any.
This isn’t a terrible movie. It has its moments. All the main actors are real good, and especially the kids. This kid Freddie Highmore plays Peter (not Peter Pan, but the kid Peter Pan is named after) and he gives the best performance, very believable as a smart and angry kid dealing with the loss of parents and the fear that the adults are hiding things from him. He also has an interesting goofy looking face with big ears, he’s not some little hollywood test tube baby. Next he’s gonna play Charlie of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame, so it might turn out this movie was worth Johnny Depp’s time just as a scouting mission for that one.
And it’s an interesting story if this is really what inspired that play. You want to like it. It’s not that bad.
What I’m saying is, I can understand why people would like this movie, but it ain’t even close to one of the top 5 movies of the year. No way this would be nominated for best picture if somebody besides Miramax released it. I mean it’s pretty mediocre in most respects. How do you even make a movie like this without having beautiful photography? They even got this awkward part after the opening credits, it tells us “London, 1903” so we think we’re into the actual story now, but after that, “inspired by true events.” This is not a masterfully crafted movie.
I gotta be fair though. I can’t fault the movie for getting oscar nominations it doesn’t deserve. But I still want to because for Johnny Depp to get a best actor nomination for this almost proves the movie wrong. If imagination and following your dreams were so damn important and powerful then Depp wouldn’t get a nomination for a square role like this. Not that he’s bad – he’ll probaly never be bad in his life. But when he’s been so original and spectacular in so many movies without a peep from the awards people… I mean think about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands, even Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Sleepy Hollow. It was huge for him to get a nomination for Pirates of the Caribbean, a movie based on a Disneyland ride, a movie made popular because he followed his weird brilliance even while the executives were telling him he was ruining the movie. But now that he broke that ground, he’s being rewarded for settling down and doing a normal role. In most of his roles, he is living it, in this one he’s just talking about it. Go out there and live your dreams, but preferably with a nice suit and Irish accent.
I mean I agree with the pro-imagination message of this movie. I’m for it. But that’s what everybody would say. I can’t help but picture people watching this movie and siding with the weirdo, wanting to stick it to the man Miramax style and take the starch out of the collars of those old rich ladies always bossing us around and telling us not to imagine stuff. Then the credits roll and the second the lights turn on, they don’t believe that shit anymore. They work in an office and they know for sure Michael Jackson is a pervert because why would he be so weird if he wasn’t raping children. They drive by some people holding up signs about something they believe in – first they lock the doors, then they crack the window and yell “Get a job!”
Like that Chocolat movie (a bigger waste of Johnny Depp’s talents) this is the grown up equivalent of those movies where kids paint the principal blue. Remember in the Police Academy movies they would trick the commander into super-gluing his hand to his dick or something, and you’re suppose to go ha ha ha, take that you crusty old asshole, but the real pleasure is not in his humiliation but in watching his reaction. Because he’s so uptight. Ha ha ha, get it? This and Chocolat are kind of the same thing, where you watch the reaction of the grandma to J.M. coming into the house wearing an indian headdress, or the wife when he hangs a spoon on his nose during a formal dinner. Ha ha ha J.M., you showed those old uptight broads.
And then at the end the grandma watches Peter Pan and is magically and instantly transformed, and she claps the fastest and hardest to bring Tinkerbell back to life. She is the ballbusting sergeant who plays mean before he breaks into a smile and gives the maverick cop an unexpected break. She’s the old white lady that starts to use hip hop slang, or the mean old dean who pulls the stick out of his ass, puts a pair of panties on his head and parties down at the wet t-shirt contest.
So anyway, if you’re too bland to figure out where Neverland is at on your own, this movie will give you detailed instructions.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.