If it didn’t have Johnny Depp as its star, Finding Neverland would barely pass muster as an average PBS Masterpiece Theatre entry. This fictionalized version of the life of author J. M. Barrie stars Depp as a sweet man trapped in a loveless marriage (to the lovely Radha Mitchell). Barrie is a dud playwright in England until he meets the widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (a plucky Kate Winslet) and her four young boys. A kid at heart, Barrie teaches these cramped scamps (their grandmother, played by a brittle Julie Christie, is harshly stern) the joys of make-believe. Then he uses his observations to write Peter Pan, which becomes a huge stage success and, eventually, a second-career vehicle for former gymnast Cathy Rigby.
I presume Depp’s fondness for whimsy drew him to this maudlin project. Director Marc Forster has traded the banal grimness of Monster’s Ball for banal guilelessness (shows range, I guess). Once Winslet starts coughing gratuitously, you know something sad is coming, but don’t be manipulated into teariness; go see The Incredibles instead.
By Marc Forster.
Miramax. November 12.