Finding Neverland

Two good reasons to see Finding Neverland: Johnny Depp and Freddy Highmore. © 2004 Miramax Films.

We can visit Neverland anytime we like—if we just believe. And should we ever need reminding of how to believe, Sir James Matthew Barrie is the man for the job. The Scottish playwright (played by Johnny Depp) who authored Peter Pan launched an epic adventure of pirates, crocodiles, fairies, children who fly, and the boys of Neverland who refuse to grow old that has entertained children and adults for 100 years.

Finding Neverland is a magical tale loosely based on the years and events that inspired Barrie to write his celebrated legend. But who cares about a playwright and his inspiration? That’s what I thought, too, until I saw the movie. This compelling drama is a choker. It’s poignant. It’s funny. It’s cleverly laced with fantasies streaming from Barrie’s fertile imagination. And it shows us that believing in the unbelievable is the juice of life that keeps us young at heart.

Screenwriter David Magee divides his roster of fine characters into two schools: believers and non-believers. Barrie befriends a family of four boys and their widowed mother Sylvia (Kate Winslet). The family’s hard-core skeptic is young Peter, whose heart is frozen with grief for his father and who is afraid to trust in anyone. Also in Peter’s camp is his grandmother, who believes in restraint. Played by the ever-lovely Julie Christie, she stresses over her widowed daughter Sylvia, whose developing relationship with the married playwright stops short of romance but not of love.

Though blessed with creativity and success, Barrie’s life is not devoid of frustration. Ironically, the person who does not appreciate his imagination is his wife Mary (Radha Mitchell). Mary is complicated. While more pragmatic than her husband and embarrassed by his boyish games, she sometimes yearns to be seduced into his world.

The character of Peter Pan captures the spirit of the author himself, whom we grow to love for his childlike energy, his wisdom, and his optimism. Barrie shows us the place of alchemy within us all where anything is possible and where no one is exempt from transformation. A cynical woman suddenly believes in fairies; a young man gains the confidence to become an adult; a broken-hearted child finds hope. And we all leave the theater with the conviction that we can always return to Neverland. Anytime we like.