A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 445 – Finding Neverland

Finding Neverland – May 19th, 2011

Last night I was having a very hard time reviewing I Am Legend, not because it was a hard movie to review but because I was having a bit of a down evening and simply couldn’t get the words out. I think I finally finished my review around 2 a.m. after railing a bit against the world in general and fantasy in particular. This wasn’t the fault of the movie. It was just a thing that gets to me every so often. Because much as I would love the world to actually be full of wizards and magic and much as I would adore all the things I’ve read and imagined to be out there waiting to be discovered, sometimes it hits me hard that they aren’t. I know it, but there’s a difference between knowing it and feeling it. Last night I felt it and it made everything more difficult. So when it came time to pick a movie for this evening I looked at the list and saw this and knew that this was it.

This is a movie about imagination and how we need it. I had a short discussion with a friend this morning about the importance of fantasy and imagination and the worlds inside our heads. She said some good things and I was heartened to read them. Things about how while sometimes we use fantasy for an escape, we can also use it as the impetus for our real world actions. And I responded that I can normally do the latter, but sometimes I need the former. I honestly believe sometimes we all need the former. Sometimes an imaginary world where things work in different ways and we can be something other than what we normally are is the world you need to believe in, even if only for a short time. Even if it’s only a small part of your mind believing in it while the rest of your mind believes in bills and groceries and cleaning all the things. Sometimes you need to have not grown up. Just for a few moments.

It’s one of the things I enjoy a lot about this project. Yes, we have documentaries and historical films that are based on real events. But we’ve got a hell of a lot more fantasy and science fiction and magical realism. And for an hour and a half or more every day I get to visit a different world and escape into it. And then after it’s over I get to come back to the real world and talk about what that other world was like. Did it manage to accomplish its goals? Did it transport me? Did I enjoy the trip? Was I supposed to? And I can say, without a doubt, that for me this movie accomplished its goals, transported me, and I enjoyed every second of it even when I was in tears.

Perhaps it’s that I picked it on a night after I’d been thinking so much on the nature of imagination and how I process it and how real it is to me and the difference in the kinds of belief one can have in one’s imagination. It’s certainly possible to say that this movie has flaws. It’s precious and a little saccharine in places and I think the last scene with Barrie and Peter was a bit much even if I do think Freddie Highmore performed admirably. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The point is that flaws or not, this movie struck me at the right time in the right way. It is the perfect movie to reaffirm one’s faith in the power of thought and imagination and fantasy. It is the story of the creation of Peter Pan, after all. A story within a story with that famous bit about believing in fairies.

Johnny Depp is the center of this movie, playing J.M. Barrie. And you know, that’s fitting since the man seems not to have aged in decades (were I to believe in such things, I would claim he’s immortal) and the central figure in the story he’s telling is Peter Pan, who never grew up. And I do so like Depp. He seems to have a lot of fun romping around with the family he befriends. The Llewellyn Davies boys and their mother meet him in Kensington Gardens one afternoon and soon he’s playing with them on a daily basis, inventing adventures for them to go on and joining in. He grows close to their mother, Sylvia, a widow whose mother disapproves of the friendship. It causes difficulties for Barrie as well as his wife grows jealous of the time he spends away from her though they seemed to be somewhat distant anyhow. The interpersonal relationships between the adults does impact things, since it provides a framework for Barrie’s life and the writing of the play, but it’s not what interests me most.

I did enjoy the movie’s version of the friendship between Barrie and Sylvia, because I felt the friendship between them was the product of some great on screen chemistry from Depp and Kate Winslet and it was thoroughly believable as a friendship but not necessarily a romance. It could have been and the interpretation is certainly possible. But the friendship comes first and I think it’s entirely possible to read them as just that, friends who might have become something more if circumstances had allowed. As it stands, in the movie Barrie remains married well throughout his friendship with Sylvia and Sylvia grows ill too soon after his marriage falls apart.

Really though, the movie is about the world Barrie creates through his imaginary adventures with the boys. And we see those adventures as he gives the boys a place to start and sparks them to imagine more themselves and we see the transitions from real world to imagination and back again, sometimes between shots in the same scene, multiple times, over and over, blurring the lines. They play as cowboys and as pirates and they go flying and imagine wonderful things. In the movie Barrie especially encourages Peter, who seems to be grown before his time with grief for his father and worry for his mother. He appears to have rejected his imagination because it helps nothing and here is where the movie resonates for me. With Barrie’s encouragement Peter re-embraces his imagination and starts to tell stories of his own and the world is not kind to him and it’s hard to keep believing when the world keeps insisting that believing doesn’t matter. This is where I was struggling last night. But Barrie encourages him to stick with it. Because sometimes we need to believe in the worlds in our heads.

I loved how the movie combined the real with the fantastical. I loved the development of the imaginary stories into the play and then into a world where Barrie, Sylvia and the boys can just walk out to. Visually it’s absolutely amazing and Depp, Winslet and Highmore (as Peter) are all fantastic and carry the emotional weight well. As I mentioned, the last scene between Barrie and Peter felt a little much to me. It dipped into telling in a movie full of wonderful examples of showing. But I blame the script there, because the emotion in the scene was well done and I credit Highmore for pulling off the tears just right. Better than that though is the play itself, which is performed very nicely within the movie. I admit, I totally love the gimmick used in the movie where children were seeded through the theater to prompt the adults into reacting the way they should. And I love all the theater scenes in general. Dustin Hoffman as the theater owner has some fantastic moments and steals a lot of his scenes. It adds some humor to a movie that has a lot of moments that invite you to cry, such as the play performed in the Llewellyn Davies living room and Barrie realizing that the eldest of the boys has had to grow up right before his eyes.

There’s definitely a sentimental feel to the whole production here and I can appreciate how that might turn some people off. I, on the other hand, needed that tonight. I needed to see people feeling better because of something outside of reality. I needed to see lives transformed by the wondrous and amazing. And that is precisely what this movie shows and it shows it well. It has some fantastic acting from everyone in the cast and it has some beautifully written lines and it has a stage play and some amazing camera tricks and theatrical effects used outside of the theater. It’s beautiful and quiet and heartbreaking and affirming for me all at the same time.

May 19, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding Neverland

May 19, 2011

Finding Neverland

I love a movie about the power of imagination. Which is very much what this movie is. In the spirit of Shakespeare in Love this is a fictionalization of the creation of a well known popular work. In this case it is a slightly more modern tale from the turn of the 19th century with the subject being the writing of Peter Pan.

Who better to play the author of Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie, than that eternal man-child himself Johnny Depp? It seems to be the role he was born to play. Barrie is portrayed as a man who takes great delight in childhood games and wild adventures of the imagination. When his latest play is a colossal flop and critical failure he finds solace in the companionship of a group of young brothers who have not lost the ability to dream. He spends more and more time with the Llewelyn Davies boys and their mother and finds in playing with them the inspiration for his next play – a mad fantasy about a boy who doesn’t ever want to grow up.

Much of the charm in this movie comes from the deft direction of Marc Forster. He wonderfully blends the world of imagination and play with the real world and shows us how these fantasies have a reality of their own. I would say that it has a very Gilliamesque feel to it, and that’s high praise coming from me. For the most part the magic in the film comes from simple tricks like inter-cutting between two viewpoints of the same dialog, or flying out parts of the set to show us the land of fantasy behind and around the mundane world. At one point in the fantasy world there are some gorgeous waves done in a sort of cut-out style which I assume to be the only CGI effects in the film. There are also a couple wonderfully creative camera tricks (like the kite POV shot) and one particular sweeping, soaring, absolutely impossible camera move that flies around the theater during the opening night of the play Peter Pan which completely blew my mind.

I was also mightily impressed by the very, very young Freddie Highmore who here plays the second youngest of the brothers, the practical Peter. It’s a great character – acting as a sort of foil to Barrie’s man who wants to play like a boy there’s Peter as the boy who doesn’t want to believe in childish things. It’s a demanding role, and many of the movie’s most emotional moments hinge on him, and Freddie is more than able to give it the power it deserves.

I do not, as a rule, spend time with children. Maybe it’s that I have too many bad memories of how awkward and painful it was to be one. Maybe it’s that I don’t like being cast in the role of an adult. As such it is difficult for me to sympathise with a character who chooses to spend most of his time playing with this brood. On the other hand, I do have wonderful memories of playing with my friend Randy in Narnia and Middle Earth and Xanth (all of which were somehow encompassed by a small stretch of fence and a rope swing in his back yard.) So I know what it is to see entire other worlds in this one.

I knew going into it that this movie would make me cry, and I was right. But it’s okay because there’s a hopefulness to the film. There’s a (very heavily beaten home) message to the movie about the wonder of dreams and the power they have to bring us hope in times of trouble. No matter how blatant the point may be I still find it to be a valid one. Me, I always wanted to escape to the 100 Acre Wood as a child and not to Neverland, but the gist is the same. This world we live in is only one aspect of our lives, and the worlds we imagine and play in are no less valid. I firmly believe that.

Now back to my video games.

May 19, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment