Thursday, February 17, 2005

Finding Neverland

Reviewed by a Guy Who Couldn't Find A Theater Showing The Flick

Despite first impressions, this movie has nothing to do with Michael Jackson’s ranch or search warrants. Directed by Marc Foster of “Monster Ball” fame, this film promises none of the angst nor an open-ended monolog by Oscar winner Halle Berry. Set in London in the early 1900’s, the film features Johnny Depp as J.M. Barrie in search of Peter Pan. And with no guest appearances by Robin Williams, you’re just going to have to revisit the Peter Pan mythos straight up. The good news is even though Depp’s character spends a lot of time around…uh…children… and doesn’t want to grow up, it’s all proper. But, it’s still going to take some time to get that Jackson stench off of Peter Pan.

Barrie is a man who never wanted to grow up, but after a disastrous play review, he finds himself blaming a childhood trauma for his failure as a playwright. The sheer madness of this circular reasoning makes Norman Bates look like a slightly eccentric handyman. A man ahead of his time in his deft ability to shield himself from criticism by making himself a victim, we get a rare glimpse into the psyche of a mad genius and the inner storms that compel a grown man to concoct a tale about children who never grow old.

Barrie’s wife detaches from their loveless marriage as Barrie feigns affection for the four children of a recent widow (Kate Winslet borrowing heavily on the good genes she got from her mother) in order to get close to her. As Depp/Barrie drifts deeper and deeper into his madness, his obsession with pirates grows. Fearing the social mores of the time might not accept a ‘pirate’ as a hero, Barrie temporarily shelves his latest work, “Pirates of the Caribbean” for being unworkable, but connives to subtly expose the audience to the pirate concept in a more sinister way: using children.

Working feverishly long into the night, Barrie creates the character of Peter Pan, a maniacal man-child with designs on conquering the world using the black arts. Gathering together a vampire army of Lost Boys, only the wise and noble Captain Hook stands in the way of his total world domination. However, the children (John, Paul, George and Ringo) whom he uses to obscure his true carnal intentions with Sylvia, shatter his mind-numbing obsession with pirates as protagonists by pointing out that no one in their right mind would buy that load of crap. In an epiphany of rational thought, he realizes they are right and enlists their aid in constructing a children’s tale that might become a classic for all time.

The children create a masterpiece, which Barrie absconds with, while giving absolutely no writing credits to the children. His play opens amid rave reviews; however, late one night, he finds his success threatened when a stranger shows up on his doorstep, accusing him of plagiarizing HIS play and demanding satisfaction. Lapsing into a funk of biblical proportions, Barrie fights off visions of demons with scissors for hands and headless horsemen, weighing the costs of giving the boys their proper credit versus keeping the credit all to himself, but living a life of madness. The climatic three-way showdown between the threatening stranger, Barrie and the children is a cinematic work of art that would have Sam Peckinpah salivating. When you leave this film you’ll never look at Peter Pan the same way.

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