Grown in 60 Seconds

Johnny Depp adds J. M. Barrie to his collection of odd and intriguing roles. In “Finding Neverland,” he plays the British playwright in the process of writing his most famous play “Peter Pan.” His inspiration comes from a boy named Peter Davies (Freddie Highmore), his three brothers, and his widow mom (Kate Winslet). The odd thing about Mr. Barrie is that he seems to devote a lot of his time to the Davies family, especially with the boys. We vaguely wonder if he loves his wife at all. No doubt that the Michael Jackson comparison is bound to happen. The Pop monarch is known to like spending time with boys and he named his own amusement park “Neverland.” Probably the best compliment I can give this movie is that it sidesteps that comparison. Barrie has an asexual undertone, but he has a huge imagination and heart to make up what is missing down there. I’m content with the idealized Barrie and I don’t care to even research who exactly J. M. Barrie was in real life.

“Finding Neverland” is a fairly slow moving film, but we do learn some inspirations behind “Peter Pan.” While it’s not surprising that the play is written by an overgrown kid-at-heart, I didn’t expect the real Peter to be so serious. It’s a glum realization that not all kids can afford to be kids. Some are spoiled, some are faced with misfortunes (such as death of a parent) that accelerate their maturity. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s the way life works. But the tragedy, the movie addresses, is shutting out the inner child. We don’t need to be bogged down by the reality. There’s beauty in pretending, in believing in fantasies.

Depp and Winslet do a solid job in the movie, but not quite in the Oscar caliber level. I thought Depp was even better in the earlier 2004 thriller “Secret Window” and Winslet is rightfully nominated in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (her best career accomplishment to date). The acting that impressed me though was little Freddie Highmore as the serious boy Peter. At times, he echoes Haley Joel Osment’s startling performance in “The Sixth Sense.” The kid is so focused. Watch him listen to and understand Johnny Depp’s Barrie with all his heart. His youth fuels his curiosity as how to deal with life, but he shows early signs of adolescence when he mistrusts what adults tell him. I believe the delicately handled conversations between Depp and Highmore are the highlight of the movie. It finds the right tone and triggers the right emotion.

How do you know when a kid has crossed that line of adulthood?
He looks both ways before doing so.

Grade: B+