Last night, I finally saw Finding Neverland (watch the trailer), the latest Johnny Depp movie based on the life of J.M. Barrie and his play, Peter Pan.
It was fabulous. That's not a word I use lightly. But I loved every minue of it. The script is great, the acting is top notch, the cinematography is breathtaking and the performances of the children (especially the young Peter) are thrilling. My, how I gush! In fact, I get a lump in my throat just thinking about the movie again this morning.
Last night, I found I couldn't even talk about it as we left the theatre. I was still choked up.
So what was it I responded to so strongly in this charming, low-key, lovingly-crafted story?
I think it was that this movie was so un-Hollywood. It's a story about a young man, seemingly in a difficult relationship with his beautiful wife, who befriends a young widow with four young boys. They begin spending every afternoon together and it's obvious the man is falling in love with the boys and their mother.
It goes without saying that in most modern movies, the story would quickly raise the spectres of child molestation, inappropriate touching, perhaps adultery, debauchery, abuse. Those are themes that we run across in almost all of our popular culture. It is so prevalent that it's almost taken for granted.
But in Finding Neverland, we gradually realize that we are not going to go down that road. Barrie's love for the children is real and is not warped, or dirty. He thrills the boys with tales spun from his and their imagination. And those tales, and their shared adventures become the basis for his most brilliant creations -- Neverland, Peter Pan, Tinkerbelle, the Lost Boys. It's a fabulous story and it plays out before us in a beautiful blend of fact and fantasy.
There is a great line in the movie where Dustin Hoffman, the cynical but supportive producer who puts on Barrie's fanciful play, bemoans the state of the theatre (this is the 1920's). The critics taken the fun out of theatre, he tells Barrie. They've made it too serious and forgotten why it's called a "play."
Perhaps that's what's happening today. Hyper-realism, helped by computer graphics, gritty dialogue and modern technology, have given us a whole slew of movies that explore the dark side of the human condition. But we can have too much of that. Sure, we still have Shrek, and Shark Tale, which supposedly give us the "other" point of view. But all too often, people that make movies fall into the trap of thinking that real life should be depressing. And they're not necessarily wrong. But when I go to the movies, I like to be made to feel good, as well.
I guess I'm tired of always being told about how wretched things are. How even the things that feel good or make us happy are probably bad for someone else, or ruining our children's future. Maybe that's why Finding Neverland is my choice for Best Picture.