in Oscars Fortnight, Review

Finding Neverland (2004)

The 77th Academy Awards (2005)
Wins: 1

Why am I drawn to the worst films nominated for Best Picture? Finding Neverland is not terrible but it has no business being selected as one of the Best Films of 2004. The 77th Academy Awards did otherwise deliver a solid lineup; Million Dollar Baby (the winner), The Aviator, Sideways, Ray, but Finding Neverland? You could have given that spot to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Collateral, or The Incredibles (yeah, right they aren’t that cool). So why Finding Neverland? Answer: the Oscars LOVE middling biopics.

Even today, middling biopics are swoop in to rip away the Oscar dreams from more deserving films. The Oscars could have been cool this year and nominated Margot Robbie for Barbie but fuck you, here’s Nyad and Carey Mulligan sleepwalking through Maestro. “A person I know is playing another person I’ve heard of?” The Oscars can’t resist the familiar. Doesn’t even matter if the film is well casted (this one isn’t) all that matters is if it’s a good enough tribute to a famous figure.

The tribute in the case of Finding Neverland is to Scottish playwright and novelist J.M. Barrie who in 1904 created Peter Pan and wrote the iconic play, “Peter Pan, Or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up”. The film details how J.M. Barrie befriended widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her children, who inspire him to write Peter Pan, despite the relationship estranging him from his wife, Mary Ansell Barrie (Radha Mitchell).

Who was cast as this iconic Scotsman? Why an American of course! It’s Johnny Depp doing his best Shrek impression. I guess we all thought after Pirates of the Carribean he could do any European accent, huh? Wrong, he’s terrible in this film. Kate Winslet plays Sylvia and despite playing a schmaltzy, dying heroine, plays the part like a seasoned pro. The kids aren’t terrible either, in particular, Freddie Highmore as Peter Llewelyn Davies, the inspiration for you know who.

Set in early 1900s London, playwright JM Barrie is pressured to write a hit by his American Financier (played by Dustin Hoffman) after a recent misfire. The whimsical Barrie thus finds inspiration in the imaginations of a group of precious children and their mother Sylvia. The film then depicts Barrie and the children entering dreamlike flights of fancy (like being transported to a pirate ship) which in turn leads to the development of Barrie’s play.

Apart from the Depp miscasting, there isn’t anything in this film that’s particularly egregious. The beats are predictable, the sweeping orchestral score by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek (which won an Oscar) does most of the heavy lifting. Though I will give this movie points for a solid climax, when Barrie reserves twenty-something seats in the theater for a group of orphans. It’s a sweet moment.

My beef isn’t with Finding Neverland. My beef is with Finding Neverland as an Oscar contender. The Oscars can’t just keep going with the, “Looks Like an Oscar Movie, Must Be an Oscar Movie” strategy of nominating films. We need more Parasites and Everything Everywhere All at Onces. Any good film can be an Oscar contender, just like every child can imagine anything! What I’m saying is JM Barrie is on my side on this one. Though I’m not on his side about all his problematic Indian stuff. You’re on your own dude.

Until next Oscar season, see you at the movies!