Opposing View on FN Across the Bay

by Andrew Birkin

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Liz
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Opposing View on FN Across the Bay

Unread postby Liz » Mon Nov 22, 2004 11:22 am

And now for the better one:

Image

Now who could resist this guy and his dog? Not Bruce at the Merc. The movie critic across the bay at the SF Chronicle's rival paper, the San Jose Mercury News, had much better things to say than yesterday's article.

I hope this article is more to your liking:


A dash of pixie dust
Bruce Newman
Mercury News
Published: Friday, November 19, 2004

Death remains suspended, like disbelief, for most of ``Finding Neverland,'' hovering just out of frame. By the time it finally descends upon the imaginary world that Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie (played by Johnny Depp) created in the classic ``Peter Pan,'' even the eternal boy himself senses its doomy presence.

``To die would be an awfully big adventure!'' Peter Pan tells Wendy, during a thrilling re-creation of the play's 1904 opening in London. Who but a man as intimately acquainted with death's hovering presence as Barrie could ever write a line like that?

Barrie never recovered from the death of his brother when he was a boy, or the crushing effect it had on their mother. In the movie's most touching scene, he recalls being unable to do anything for her until, finally, he pretended to be his brother, and in that pretending found his way for the first time to Neverland. Instead of turning the playwright into a whimsical eccentric with a fondness for children's games, Depp locates in this one revealing moment all the pain that Barrie absorbed in his own childhood.

In ``Finding Neverland,'' James Mathew Barrie serves as a thin membrane between reality and fantasy, vibrating like a reed as he imagines himself to be a cowboy, a pirate and finally father to the four boys of the beautiful widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet).
There is a long and impressively weepy tradition of movies about boys looking for fathers, but in ``Finding Neverland'' it is the father figure who remains the constant focus of the story: It's more ``Shane'' than ``Shine.''

The movie is a fictionalized account of Barrie's creative journey to the immortality that ``Peter Pan'' brought him, and 100 years later it no longer seems terribly important which bits are true and which aren't. Barrie definitely was one of London's most successful playwrights of the Edwardian era, but as the movie begins, he is in a creative funk, writing plays that bore him almost as much as they do everybody else. His latest offering is such a snooze that the best one flummoxed playgoer can think to do afterward is ask Barrie what he thought of it. Not much.

Barrie heads for Kensington Gardens the next morning, taking Porthos, his companionable St. Bernard, with him. While writing in his journal, he notices a small boy curled up at his feet. As will sometimes happen, one boy leads to another; soon Barrie is surrounded by a clutch of them. These are the four sons of the widow Llewelyn Davies who one day will become The Lost Boys of Neverland.

But not right away. Barrie immediately begins making up stories for the boys, and in his lively imaginarium, the dog Porthos becomes a dancing bear. There are no bridges between reality and these fantasies; they just explode to life, as if attached to a tripwire in Barrie's imagination. All of the boys but one can see the dancing bear in Barrie's arms.
``What did you bring me over here for?'' asks Peter Llewelyn Davies (Freddie Highmore) indignantly. ``This is absurd. He's just a dog!''
The boys are still recovering from the death of their father, and Barrie comes into their lives offering the seductive transport of full-dress games of cowboys and Indians. Director Marc Forster (``Monster's Ball'') puts us inside the mind of a small child by framing shots from the ground up. Widening the magic circle, he also lets us peer through the mind's eye of his fabulous fabulist, even when Barrie's wearing a pirate's eye patch.

Barrie's friendship with Sylvia never gets to where it seems to be going. He's unhappily married to a social-climbing scold (Radha Mitchell), so his deepening affection for the boys also is about sublimation and subtext.

Depp seems to have a special feeling for creative oddballs -- as he demonstrated in ``Edward Scissorhands'' and ``Ed Wood'' -- and without benefit of pinking shears or pink sweaters, he finds in Barrie the fullest expression of love he has yet shown on screen. He does this without telling anyone how he feels, or revealing himself in a single romantic gesture. His is the ardor of steadfast friendship and unceasing loyalty.

If some of that love bubbled over and started the swirl of gossip suggesting his affections were not always chaste -- a rumor that persists even today -- the movie prefers to give Barrie the benefit of the doubt. Fortunately, the filmmakers have chosen not to ignore the issue altogether, including a scene in which Barrie angrily dismisses the speculation as outrageous, and probably inevitable. To have done less would make ``Neverland'' seem hopelessly saccharine, and to do more would undercut the love between boys and man that is the basis of the story.

The real obstacles to Barrie's happiness are Sylvia's disapproving mother, Emma du Maurier (played by Julie Christie), and his dreary wife, Mary. When her daughter becomes ill, Madame du Maurier insists on moving in. Then she takes over. She suggests that Barrie should find more suitable amusements than playing with little boys, and banishes him from their home.

Giving Barrie and Sylvia these formidable, forbidding women to contend with may save the picture from sinking into sentimentality, but at a price. Mary is such an uninteresting character that when she is also revealed as unfaithful, you just wish the movie could hurry up and be rid of her.

As Barrie's affection for the boys translates itself into a new work for the stage, in which adults play children, women play boys, and a man dresses up as a dog, his producer (Dustin Hoffman) is convinced that Barrie has lost his mind, and that he is about to lose his shirt. Hoffman, who once played the title role in ``Hook,'' Steven Spielberg's version of ``Peter Pan,'' gives one of the movie's several wonderful supporting performances. Winslet is as good as she has ever been.

But it is Depp who makes the magic real enough to believe. When ``Peter Pan'' causes a sensation, the opening night crowd surrounds Peter Llewelyn Davies, believing they have the play's pint-size hero in their midst. The boy draws himself up to his full height, which is about three feet. ``But I'm not Peter Pan,'' he cries, pointing to Barrie. ``He is.''

`Finding Neverland'
*** 1/2
Rated: PG (mild thematic elements, brief profanity)
Cast: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Dustin Hoffman
Director: Marc Forster
Writer: David Magee (based upon the play ``The Man Who Was Peter Pan'' by Allan Knee)
Running time 1 hour, 40 minutes
________________________________________
Contact Bruce Newman at bnewman@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5004.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

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luvdepp
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Unread postby luvdepp » Mon Nov 22, 2004 4:48 pm

"Barrie never recovered from the death of his brother when he was a boy, or the crushing effect it had on their mother. In the movie's most touching scene, he recalls being unable to do anything for her until, finally, he pretended to be his brother, and in that pretending found his way for the first time to Neverland. Instead of turning the playwright into a whimsical eccentric with a fondness for children's games, Depp locates in this one revealing moment all the pain that Barrie absorbed in his own childhood."

I agree that this was one of the most emotional scenes in the movie. I really noticed it with my latest viewing. It really touched me. Johnny seemed so moved and on the verge of tears in this one.

"Depp seems to have a special feeling for creative oddballs -- as he demonstrated in ``Edward Scissorhands'' and ``Ed Wood'' -- and without benefit of pinking shears or pink sweaters, he finds in Barrie the fullest expression of love he has yet shown on screen. He does this without telling anyone how he feels, or revealing himself in a single romantic gesture. His is the ardor of steadfast friendship and unceasing loyalty."

Now there is a reviewer who understands the concept of subtlety. I think this movie gets better with each viewing. I have gotten more out of it each time I've seen it.
"So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself, who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on the shore and merely existed." ~HST~

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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Mon Nov 22, 2004 7:26 pm

It is nice to see another critic who "gets it" in terms of Johnny's acting in this role. Personally I have had a hard time reading the article because I keep looking at that picture and Johnny's face and posture and thinking it gives new meaning to the saying, "lucky dog"... :bounce:
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
Wow! What a ride!

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Unread postby nebraska » Mon Nov 22, 2004 11:55 pm

DeppInTheHeartOfTexas wrote:It is nice to see another critic who "gets it" in terms of Johnny's acting in this role. Personally I have had a hard time reading the article because I keep looking at that picture and Johnny's face and posture and thinking it gives new meaning to the saying, "lucky dog"... :bounce:



Good one, DITHOT!!!!!! :lol:

I suppose we may be a little biased here, but I do think this reviewer is closer to the mark about Johnny's performance. The accent alone was fabulous! When I heard it in the trailers I thought it sounded stupid and false, but watching the movie it was so natural, so beautiful! The body language, the facial expressions, the eyes ...... everything Johnny does so well that it may go unnoticed was done to perfection in FN! The script aside, the historical inaccuracies aside, just looking at our Johnny, I was very impressed. I kept wondering how Miramax could have possibly sat on this all these years!!!!

It is a beautiful old fashioned movie, yes there is death and sadness, but not all the futuristic violent horror that so many movies lean toward..... I kept thinking of Gone With the Wind and Rhett Butler.....

I had read this review before, but it was a pleasure to read it again.


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