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07 February 2006

Finding Neverland (2004)

Johnny Depp (Barrie), Kate Winslet (Sylvia), Julie Christie (Mrs. du Maurier), Dustin Hoffman (Charles Frohman), and Freddie Highmore (Peter)

Directed by Marc Forster (Monster's Ball)

From IMDB: "The story of J.M. Barrie's friendship with a family who inspired him to create Peter Pan."

Powerful child actors like Freddie Highmore, also of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, should harness their powers for good, because they could do some serious damage for the side of evil. There he was, sitting on a park bench, asking Johnny Depp why his mom had to die. Tears flowed. His eyes were so bright. I swear someone must have run over his cat to make him that authentically heart-broken. But no; the director, Marc Forster, staged one particularly difficult scene - where Freddie must throw a tantrum and destroy the set to a play - on the second day of shooting. He invited everyone in the cast to watch, even those unassociated with the scene, with the intention of showing these adults what a marvelous actor Freddie is, and so those same adults would take him seriously as an exceedingly talented professional. So naturally, his watery eyes did me in.

Johnny Depp graciously allowed a benevolent Scotsman to inhabit his body for the duration of filming. His accent was fantastic. It was not forced. It was not showy. He did not accidentally sound like the Irish caricature from Lucky Charms. I mean, this was Daniel Day-Lewis caliber Gaelic channeling. An endearing, quality performance. Julie Christie's "evil mum" routine was a little wearing, but Dustin Hoffman has settled nicely into funny, crotchety older characters, and his every scene felt like a cross between Rain Man and I ♥ Huckabees.

However, despite the wonderfully executed ending where Peter Pan (a la Trainspotting's Kelly MacDonald) made a personal appearance in the Davies' living room, the surprise of it was ruined by a "Mr. Darcy cough." Some years ago, Keven and I named the cough after Mr. Darcy simply because he is one of the most well-known period drama names, but we intended it to refer to any character, most often female, who coughs at ANY point in a film. People are never "a little bit ill" with "just a chest cold" in films, unless that chest cold is short-hand for lethal TB or another nasty disease. See, for example, Moulin Rouge!, Little Women, or The End of the Affair. So as soon as Kate Winslet so much as cleared her throat, I knew Freddie Highmore would make me cry before the credits rolled. Which he did.

Overall, this was a quality flick with an interesting use of fantasy sequences, not all of which were successful. Johnny Depp did not have to carry the entire picture, like in From Hell, but he was still the center of attention. I was just glad to see that he had people with serious acting chops to help him tell this rather fanciful story.

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