Tuesday, 2 October 2007
Finding Neverland (2004) - Marc Forster
The key word here is competent. There is nothing specifically bad about Marc Forster's film, it's just there's nothing particularly exceptional about it either. Depp and Winslet phone in reasonable performances while Forster does the minimum with the material provided to produce a film which, although not in the least bit dull, doesn't ever amount to something that feels wholly satisfactory.
The story follows J.M. Barrie as, under the pressure of critical slatings of his latest plays, he immerses himself in the world of Sylvia Davies' children - one of whom becomes the boy upon whom the character of Peter Pan is based. All this going on while - unbeknownst to the family, Silvia is desperately ill following the passing on of her husband. Backed by a financier at the end of his tether, with more money than sense, the Peter Pan story conjures itself in the head of Mr Barrie heavily inspired by the children with which he so closely associates. There is a brief mention of the rumours circulating that something untoward is going on between the playwright and the kids, but in this family film such talk is presented as bitter cynicism by prying eyes and stuffy-nosed high society who don't take kindly to breaking the mould. By contrast Barrie's unconventional production is presented here as something of a brainwave, a revolution in the medium, something which pushes art forward upon a broader audience socially as much as artistically.
It's all very neat, yet unavoidably shallow. The film never even seems interested in the whys and wherefores behind Mr Barrie's relationship to the children beyond him being genuinely kind of heart, and any sexual chemistry between him and Silvia is underplayed to the point of non-existence. We learn next to nothing of Barrie's background, nor what happens after the play's performance. Ultimately, I'm afraid Forster wants to turn this interesting drama-come-fantasy into a tear-jerking family drama about love, but the underdeveloped characters of the children and Silvia left me, in the final reel, simply wondering "is that it?". Was the play a cathartic way of dealing with the mother's illness for the children; did Barrie intend it that way or was this merely co/incidental? Forster, apparently, doesn't care as long as the music stirs on the right queue and every negative shot is followed by a cosy, nice one.
It's a safe watch, that veers clear of tedium, but does nothing to linger in the memory for more than about 30 seconds after the credits have expired. Taking Monster's Ball into account, Mr Forster must do better next time IMHO.