Director: Mark Forster
Writers: Allan Knee (play), David Magee
Fear, information, and control. Parents use all three tactics to raise their kids. Fear has created “play dates”, schedules, filters. The dissemination of information available all day everyday sends parents crazy with fear that they feel they ought to tell their offspring everything in “preparation” for the “real world”. This may well stem from peoples fear of what the neighbours might think as opposed to what their children might think; if they manage that feat at all. So we have a generation of children and teenagers raised by paranoid Boomers ready to be adults, but who haven’t yet been kids.
You remember kids, right? They’re those short people under the age of twelve (when they get weird and all bets are off) who run outside, yell, scream, torture their siblings, skid their knees, dirty their clothes, ring doorbells then run away. Memories of a simpler time when child molesters and ax murders hadn’t been invented yet.
Ok, you caught me. Clever monkey. But what has that got to do with Finding Neverland? Everything. Intentionally or not, Mark Forster (Monsters Ball) has directed a film about the misery of growing up without the magic of being a kid.
The story revolves around play write Sir James Mathew Barrie (Johnny Depp), his friendship with widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) and her four young sons. The boisterous family serves as his muse for Peter Pan and creative release from his latest theatrical flop. They also serve as contrast to Barrie’s now lifeless marriage to social climbing Mary (Radha Mitchell) and the moneyed patrons that flock to his plays. In turn, Barrie foils attempts made by the children’s grandmother (Julie Christie) at “discipline and order”.
It would be easy to demonize the wife and the grandmother who seem ready to snuff out imagination and whimsy. As the picture progresses, we find that their rigidity is simply a protective wall around what they’re afraid to lose. Unfortunately, walls block out the very nutrients that help things grow: children, imagination, love. In short, sheltering stilts.
Finding Neverland is billed as a “feel good movie” and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, its much needed as an antidote to the saccharine pap that usually bears that moniker. Forster ably alternates between reality and fantasy without losing track of either. His images evoke the paintings of John William Waterhouse who captured a romantic vision of an Arthurian past. Some would argue that this vision never existed and perpetuates a myth. I say Bah! Magic and myth never hurt anyone.
It may be “proper”, “correct”, “adult”, and “realistic” to write off whimsy. It’s not part of the everyday. And that’s the problem. Cutting that out of your imagination makes you old, boring, and dried up. Worse yet, adult.
Now go play outside.
More movie reviews from my deep dark freelance past:
No Man’s Land
A Knights Tale
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin