Tuesday, April 19, 2005

We just got back from watching the the Academy Award winning movie, Finding Neverland and as expected it never disappointed me or the others in the theater watching watching the same time as us (although the audio of the cinema we were watching could use some serious thrashing as it was all I could do to discern what it was the actors were saying). The story is about the sad story of the author of "Peter Pan," Sir James Matthew Barrie (Johnny Depp) who, at the beginning of the movie, was shown as an almost theater playwright whose latest work had bombed at the tills. His best friend and patron and theater owner, Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman) offers words of small comfort while some other theater goers weren't as charitable. Back at the house he lives with his wife, Mary Ansell Barrie (Radha Mitchell) but their relationship is quite obviously strained although they're still civil with each other (the reason for the strain in their marriage isn't given in the movie). Late the next day, JM Barrie goes to the park, as his custom, to walk the dog and do some thinking. There he meets a family of five that would later change the course of his life: a recently widowed mother, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) and her four sons, Jack (Joe Prospero), George (Nick Roud), Michael (Luke Spill) and Peter (Freddie Highmore). Mr. Barrie immediately bonds with the Jack, George, and Michael as he regals them with stories of circuses that turns in a palace filled with dancing clowns as the ring master himself dances with a bear. The brooding Peter isn't impressed as he refuses to let his imagination flow. While his mother chastises him for being rude, Mr. Barrie plays along and excuses his outburst. As the days pass by, Mr. Barrie would meet the Llewelyn Davies family in the park and play with the boys. Peter eventually lets a bit of his guard down as Sylvia explained to Barrie that the sudden demise of her husband left Peter to leave childhood his behind as his way of coping. JM would always engaged the boys in imaginative games involving pirates, flying a kite, stories of mermaids and fairies, and a place called Neverland where imaginations run free. His unlikely friendship with boys doesn't escape the scandalized eyes of polite (read: ultra-conservative) society. Sylvia's mother, Mrs. Emma du Maurier (Julie Christie) vainly tried to separate them thinking it unnatural for a grown man to still be playing with boys as news of their activities went around.

But all these plays have bore some good fruit inspiring him to write a new play about a boy who refuses to grow up, of pirates, of flying with happy thoughts, of indians, a dog nurse, and a group of lost boys. His friend Frohman was reluctant to produce the play at first but Barrie managed to inspire him to take a chance on this new story, the actors and actresses tapped to star in the play though befuddled with their roles, they never played children in any of their roles, but was also prevailed upon to accept them. Meanwhile, Sylvia's sickness came to light as it was balefully exposed with a series of coughs. The worried Peter went back to his old self, angry that he would be again deprived of his only surviving parent after a bout of deceptions (Sylvia tried to comfor her children before by saying that she only had a chest cold). As if this wasn't enough Barrie's wife, Mary has had enough of the charades and decides to leave him for good while George suffers a sprained wrist after an accident on the stage set prompting Mrs. Maurier to finally ban Barrie from setting foot on their premises. All these developments threatened to drag Barrie down to the pits of depression but he knew that the show has to go on as he had already made a lot of commitments and promises to a lot of people. The pitiful number of people attending on opening day prompted Barrie to ask his friend to lower the prices of the tickets promising him that all the seats in the house will be filled. This he did by doing an unprecedented feat of inviting the young orphans to see the play along with the adults (who were at first miffed with the idea of watching alongside some children). But as the play unfolded the eager responses of the children soon spread over them making them laugh and revisit their childhood if only for a few hours. But JM Barrie's joy was incomplete because of other developments that now threaten to steal of some of those he holds near to his heart. But even in the midst of all this tragedy there was one student who was willing to ask how it is to hold on the last shred of childhood with all his might, to this he was taught to always yearn for the place called Neverland and just believe.

I can't quite capture into words what I've felt about this movie except that I found it wonderful. Might I actually mention the particularly inventive way his imagination was interspersed between the scenes as Barrie interacted with his friends or the boys. I'm sure that a lot of us who never found complete content in our present lives as adults would relate as we do find ourselves daydreaming of things that could be or those that may have been. I did however found myself straining my ears as I tried to capture every bit of dialogue as I can since, like I've mentioned before, the theater's audio system has reduced majority of the dialogue into garbled mumbles coupled with the lead actors' Scottish and English accents it was all I could do to make sense of the rich details the script presented. Please do try to watch it in the theaters or in DVD and be inspired by the story of one man's quest who never had a happy childhood create a story so wondrous it fired the imagination of generations to come all because of that one unexpected meeting with one family he met in the park one afternoon.

* Check out also the review in Hollywood Jesus for more insightful reactions to this great movie.

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