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"Finding Neverland"

Directed by Marc Forster ("Monster's Ball").
Written by David Magee.  Based on a play of J.M. Barrie's life by Allan Knee.
Starring Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Freddie Highmore and Dustin Hoffman.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  11/28/04


I was walking out of the theater this afternoon and I was trying to place "Finding Neverland" in the hierarchy of guaranteed ManTear films ever.  And, I have to say, this might be right near the top.

Based on true events surrounding the creation of the classic play "Peter Pan", "Finding Neverland" follows a famous London playwright named J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) in 1903 just after a play he has written completely bombs, at a time when Barrie is trying to capitalize on his recent successes.  He goes back to the drawing board to write a new masterpiece when he meets Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies (Kate Winslet), a widowed mother of four young boys that plays in the same park where Barrie normally spends his time writing.  The twosome hit it off immediately, and Barrie's playful imagination and his growing relationship with the boys--particularly Sylvia's son Peter (Freddie Highmore)--lead him to write what will become one of the great artistic creations of the 20th century.  It will also lead Barrie to some bumps in the road with his wife (Radha Mitchell, most recently from "Man on Fire") and with his longtime producer (Dustin Hoffman).

This is good stuff.  The acting is très magnifique; Depp took time off from craft in "Secret Window" but he's back on point here, giving Barrie an interesting depth of solid humanitarian with a slight eccentricity; he seems like a guy you could hang out with but that also has a silly streak that would occasionally keep you from introducing him to your friends.  Getting Julie Christie for the film as Sylvia's overprotective mother is a great move; Christie gives you a mother that's a bit more accessible than Maggie Smith (from "Gosford Park" and other films) or Geraldine McEwan (from "The Magdalene Sisters"), but she has her too-stern-to-be-believed-but-still-great-for-movie-moments scenes as well.

Freddie Highmore plays Peter, and he's good enough to make you think that for the first time since Haley Joel Osment first broke out with "The Sixth Sense" a few years ago, another child actor has a great shot of getting notice when acting award nominations are handed out in a few weeks.  He's that good.  Highmore has these eyes that just make you stare at them; he plays a character that is initially quite distant to Depp's Barrie, and I loved the way Peter goes from disbeliever to...lukewarm servant, never feeling like he is totally onboard with Barrie for nearly the whole film.  It's a subtle shift that is fun watching, and it matches well with the more emotional bits later in the film.

If you loved "Peter Pan" and know what it can do for the imagination (young or not), I think you will like "Finding Neverland."  However, I was not prepared for an emotional final fifteen minutes, during which time I haven't heard this much sniffling, coughing and crying maybe since maybe "In America" or "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" last year.  Seriously, this gave "Glory"--my all-time, absolute no-brainer, you're-not-a-man-if-you-don't-cry-during-the-end-battle film--a run during its last couple of scenes; I mean, I heard people today just openly crying during the last bit of "Finding Neverland", and I think that helped set me off, too.  I just didn't see it coming, but then I was in that Dick Vermeil-inspired "I told myself I wouldn't cry!" phase, and then I was all "Damn, that's beautiful...damn!" before finally going to "Hold me, dammit...somebody hold me!"

Great stuff.  Hey, it's Miramax, so if those promotions gurus decide to ride this film come Oscar time, you know at least a nomination is coming their way...but, I can at least say that this flick is deserved of a nod.  Check it out!

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09