Finding Neverland (2004)
Finding Neverland is a semi-autobiographical story about British playwright J. M. Barrie (creator of Peter Pan) and his relationship with four young boys and their widowed mother at the start of the 20th century. Those who have extensive knowledge about the actual Barrie will be able to point out the many inaccuracies in this film, but then again the film's intentions aren't first and foremost biographical and needn't necessarily be. However, when using known historical persons for dramatic effect in motion pictures, I feel filmmakers have (to say it with J. M. Barrie's words) "a wee bit" of obligation to depict them truthfully. And, in the case of this film, it would probably have made for a better movie if it had dared to do a bit more than gracing the surface of its characters.
Johnny Depp stars as J. M. Barrie and gives a sincere and moving, but somewhat uncomplex performance. There is undeniable strength in the relationship between him and the boys (the Depp/Winslet-relation is ill-focused and has no real place in the film) and occasionally Marc Forster has nice touches when the drama parables the film's touch of fantasy, but mostly it fails to honour the spirit of Barrie's fantastical story to which it is devoted.
That leaves us with the before-mentioned biography and the undeniably interesting soul and mind of J. M. Barrie. Unfortunately, Finding Neverland doesn't quite dare explore it. In its feel-good scenes the film is fine (and Depp's energy and charm makes it even better), but when portraying its more sombre themes, it fast becomes sentimental and feeble. The film's most important aspect is Barrie's relationship with the Davies-family, yet Forster offers no real insight to Barrie's motivations and doesn't make an effort to explain them. Only the Depp/Highmore-relation really comes off satisfactory (and Highmore's performance is a powerhouse), but the film ignores too many important issues (the subject of sex here is totally absent) and tries to make up for it by condescending to plotted melodrama.