Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
"Finding Neverland" is the story of a man who doesn't want to grow up, and writes the story of a boy who never does. The boy is Peter Pan, and the man is Sir J.M. Barrie, who wrote his famous play after falling under the spell of a widow and her four young boys. That Barrie was married at the time, that he all but ignored his wife, that he all but moved into the widow's home, that his interest in the boys raised little suspicion, would make this story play very differently today. Johnny Depp's performance makes Barrie not only believable, but acceptable. And he does it without evading the implications of his behavior: The movie doesn't inoculate Barrie as a "family friend," but shows him truly and deeply in love with the widow and her boys, although in an asexual way; we wonder, indeed, if this man has ever had sex, or ever wants to.
The movie opens in 1903 in a London theater where Barrie, a Scottish playwright, has seen his latest play turn into a disaster. He needs something new, and quickly, because his impresario (Dustin Hoffman) has a lease on the house and needs to keep it filled. In Kensington Gardens, Barrie happens upon the Davies family: the mother, Sylvia (Kate Winslet), and her boys Peter, George, Jack and Michael. As he watches them at play, a kind of spiritual hunger begins to glow in his eyes. They represent an innocence and purity that strikes him so powerfully he's unable to think of anything else.
He becomes friendly with the family. Sylvia has recently become widowed and is not interested in a new romance, but then, curiously, nothing about Barrie's behavior suggests he's attracted to her in that way. He idealizes her, he obsesses about her boys, and when he talks about his own unhappy childhood we get a glimpse of his motivation; when his older brother died, his parents started calling him by the brother's name, and perhaps he felt he lived his brother's childhood and never had his own.
He plays games with the boys. He wrestles with a big stuffed bear. He leads them in games involving pirates and cowboys and Indians. He dresses in funny costumes. The children like him and Sylvia is grateful for his attention, especially since she has developed an alarming cough and he helps take care of the boys. The only holdout is Peter, played by Freddie Highmore in a remarkable performance; if Barrie never grew up, Peter was perhaps never a child. He is wise and solemn, feels the loss of his father more sharply than his brothers, and boldly tells Barrie: "You're not my father." Nor does Barrie want to be; he wants to be his brother. Sylvia's condition worsens, and when the boys stage a play in the family garden, it's cut short by her coughing. The boys are reassured that nothing serious is wrong, but Peter is sure they're lying to him about her illness: "I won't be made a fool!"