I am a bit of a Peter Pan afictionado. I have spent my whole life listening to stories about how, at age 2, I could recite the entire Disney Peter Pan 45 (yes, I had 45's, and a little blue and white striped record player on which to play them). When I was 4 and my dad and stepmom took me to Disneyland, my dad spent a very warm afternoon trying to chase down the little boy in tights they had playing Peter so I could get my picture taken with him.
As I've gotten older, I've kept my love of Peter Pan. In fact, the older I get, the more I understand the pull of Neverland and the magic inherent in the notion of never growing up. The sad truth is that I don't believe in fairies, and I could clap my hands to keep Tink alive, but it would be hollow. I miss the me that could clap in earnest.
Anyway, being a Peter Pan lover, I've seen most of the versions that have come up--the old Disney version, a couple of different versions on TV...I've even seen it on stage once. And, of course, Hook, which I've seen four or five times. I have not horribly disliked any of these versions, but I've not felt they really captured the essence of what I felt listening to that 45 as a kid, either.
Well I felt it tonight. We went to see Finding Neverland, and for a few minutes, in a dark theater full of people who were probably not nearly as moved as I was, I was a kid again, reciting that record. It was a wonderful, wonderful feeling.
Given my emotional attachment to the story, I probably can't review the film or any of its stars with anything approaching objectivity or accuracy. However, given the Oscar nominations, at least a few people seem to have agreed with me that Johnny Depp was magical in the film. I've been a Johnny Depp fan for years, and have never doubted his capacity for magic, even in roles that wouldn't have at all special otherwise. He was a fairy tale prince in Chocolat, and even his silly Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean had a bit of magic. The Johnny Depp I saw tonight, though, is pure old school. I haven't seen him this good since Edward Scissorhands (and that's been...gulp...15 years), and the little bit of his Benny & Joon role that was reprised here would have made the film well-worth seeing even if everything else about it had sucked.
Besides Depp's wonderful performance, Finding Neverland also benefits from Kate Winslet, who is fast becoming my favorite actress. She's not as remarkable here as she was in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (and honestly I'll be floored if she can ever pull off anything that good again), but she's damn good. It reminds me a little bit of some of her other performances as well, actually (no, NOT Titanic!). More than any of her other roles, I think it hearkened back to Iris, which was a great movie, and you should see it if you haven't.
The supporting case is top-notch as well. Dustin Hoffman is tolerable and doesn't get much screen time, and Julie Christie is awesome. I also really enjoyed Radha Mitchell as Barrie's wife, who I've only seen before in Pitch Black. She is also in Woody Allen's upcoming film, called Melinda and Melinda, if you are interested in checking her out (it would honestly take more than one good performance from an actress to get me to sit through a Woody Allen movie, especially one that also has Will Ferrell in it, but to each her own). The most impressive part of the supporting cast, though, is the kids. I like all of four of the actors who play the boys, but my personal favorite was Nick Roud, who plays George, the eldest.
Aside from great acting and a top-notch (though I suspect historically embellished--I am going to have to find something to read about Barrie's life to find out) story, the movie also benefits from great visuals. The semi-animated sequences are among the best parts, I think, and the fluid movement between "reality" (Barrie dancing with his dog in the park) and "fantasy" (Barrie dressed as a ringmaster, dancing with a bear in a circus ring surrounded by clowns) is really beautiful and gives a great visual for how Barrie's mind must have worked. Another thing I loved was the way the showed the stage Barrie's play was performed on, complete with low-tech special effects, but you were still able to see why the play would be convincing. I've seen other movies try to do this less successfully (Shakespeare in Love comes to mind), and it can be disastrous, but it seems to work here.
All in all, I'd highly recommend the movie. It's one of the best I've seen in quite some time. It begins to make up for director Marc Forster's previous work (Monster's Ball...), and I'm almost ready to forgive Johnny Depp for Secret Window. But not quite. We'll see how I feel after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory...