Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman, Julie Christie
In J.M. Barrie's best-known stage play, Peter Pan, audience members are urged to clap their hands if they believe in fairies. Viewers of this deftly constructed movie about the early-20th-century author may find themselves at a similar crossroads of reality and sentiment. Namely, do you buy into Finding Neverland's portrait of Barrie as a caring artist who was in touch with his inner child or do you dismiss the movie as a bulging sack of saccharine? A bit of both, actually. Neverland is a picture that is easy to like while watching, but there is also something fundamentally creepy about its mostly adoring depiction of a man reluctant to grow up.
In Neverland, which takes minor liberties with the facts, Barrie (1860-1937) is inspired to write Peter Pan after forming an intense friendship with a comely widow, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Winslet), and her four young sons. Though the relationship's effect on his own marriage is deleterious, the Scottish-born author happily continues spending his days playing elaborate games of make-believe with the boys in London parks and looking rightfully concerned when Davies suffers a coughing fit.
It helps that Neverland director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball) never pushes too hard to underscore his points and that Barrie is portrayed by Depp (see page 110), an actor incapable of giving a boring performance. Adopting a Scottish brogue that comes and goes, he plays the writer as an appealing but deeply melancholic figure. The gifted Winslet is equally affecting, while Christie and Hoffman, in key supporting roles, add sharp snap to their scenes. (PG)