Cinema Signal:

What's Eating Johnny Depp: An Intimate Biography

. "Finding Neverland"

The sources for magical fantasy are far and wide but director Marc Forster ("Monster's Ball") gave himself a good head start by suggesting what processes might have been behind Scottish author James Matthew Barrie's creation of "Peter Pan." You may not believe a word of it in a literal sense, but fantasies never were much good with reality.

To set up the supposed events, we first see James Barrie (Johnny Depp) as a nervous playright on opening night of his latest play in a majestic London theatre run by producer- entrepreneur Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman). The play's a flop, his wife Mary (Radha Mitchell) plays interference with a grossly unsatisfied audience, and the playright returns to a chilly in which to lick his creative wounds.

The seed for his next project is discovered under a park bench where a little boy is imprisoned by his elder brother, an incident of play-acting and imagination that propels Barrie's interest toward the boy's family and commences his entry into a new world of imagination. In this episode of his life, he meets the other two brothers and, inevitably, their mum and young widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) who all will now fill this new episode of Barrie's life and career. He becomes as an uncle, big brother and surrogate father to the boys, creating all sorts of play worlds replete with props and costumery for them as they inspire the formation of the play within him as well as deeper affections.

In short order, his absence from hearth and home invites rising chilliness Mary who, while intelligent and quite beautiful, seems a cold fish to the fiery creative genius burning within the husband-artist's soul. His time-filling devotion to the struggling Davies family becomes more than an emotionally abandoned wife may be expected to carry on.

Barrie's attentions to the Davies are evident to more than one house in the community, as the upper crust of society is scandalized by the liason. No less than Sylvia's mom, Mrs. du Maurier (Julie Christie), shows up to protect the interests and remaining reputation of her daughter who needs a man in a position to marry her and vindicate the family.

A sub-plot within the intrigue is the way Barrie handles the harsh realities and inner grief of Sylvia's son Peter (Freddie Highmore), who has the precocious audacity of a little boy who contests everything, including Barrie's motives and kindness. While rejecting the man as "not his real father," he nevertheless responds to his influence and urgings to compose a play of his own.

This is a strong cast which revolves around the Depp mystique ("Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl", 2003, "Secret Window", 2004) and his restless talent. There's no pirate or wild gypsy here. For Barrie, Depp is outfitted in a wardrobe of exquisite taste and a subtle manner that completes his portrait of a class guy. The key to the impression he makes seems to be in the quietude of his expression, almost a study in laying back and allowing the words do the work. Watching Depp work is entertainment in a very pure form with confidence and creative ingenuity its hallmarks.

In a subject given to certain flamboyance, restrained emotive delivery is effective, and the style is balanced enough to suspect a directorial influence. Kate Winslet portrays her role with a steady recognition of her need to maintain personal dignity while restraining the natural desire to more fully and physically experience the ardor of a man whose freedom of spirit is a close match to her own.

Fantasy gives much opportunity for visual effects and they are here in seamless realization of a Peter Pannish imagery. The lush cinematography is by Roberto Schaefer and the score's "Peter's Song" is by Elton John. All said and done, the over-sentimental potentials of such a subject and scenario -- even as the title suggests -- don't quite get drowned in a miasma of bathos despite too many journeys to invented worlds. I suspect it's going to provoke considerable identification for the very young in the audience and give new meaning to Peter Pan for us adults wandering on the periphery.

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~~  Jules Brenner  

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Site rating: 9

I know Mr. Depp's acting resume, and though his choices could be debatable, he never fails to give a memorable, if not, award-winning performance! I can't [wait] for this to premiere!

                                                   ~~ V. Harrelson
I found this to be in my top 5 of excellent movies that tug at the heart strings. I think this review does not do the movie justice.
                                                   ~~ Fiona R.

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