Alright, I can’t outright call this a bad movie. I can recognize all the elements that make it a “good movie” in the eyes of many others. It has very good performances, hits all the right beats, and the story it presents is a moving and inspirational one. And yet, it didn’t really work for me.

This is mostly because of my annoyance with the HUGE liberties they took with the real story of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie and his relationship with the Llewelyn-Davies family. About 60-70% of the story as shown here is total B.S. Look, I don’t always have a problem with historical films tweaking facts, if it is for a good reason. In fact, two other Johnny Depp movies that I like a lot more than this one – From Hell and Public Enemies – also play loose with the real stories they are based on. But at least in those cases the changes were mostly made in order to condense certain elements and move the storyline along faster. Here, in Finding Neverland, the makers have taken what is already a fairly unique and interesting relationship, and fudged with its facts purely to give the pairing of Barrie and Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies a more romantic and tragic feeling. It’s emotional manipulation, is what it is. Same with making Peter a young boy, even though he was actually just a baby when Barrie used his name for his new play. Well, we certainly can’t have Barrie have a meaningful conversation with a baby at the end, can we? So we’ll just change his age. Problem solved! Some changes, I can’t even begin to fathom why they even bothered with. Like, why only have four Llewelyn-Davies boys, when in reality there were five? Did they just not want to pay another child actor?

My least favorite scene in the whole movie is the final scene between Barrie and his now ex-wife. Although they changed what they could to make the Barrie-Sylvia relationship as cute as possible, there really wasn’t anything they could do to avoid the fact that Barrie WAS being unfair to his wife. To the movie’s credit, it doesn’t take the easy way out and simply present the wife as a total bitch from the get-go. In fact, her concerns seem perfectly valid, and Barrie in turn looks like a total tool for not understanding why she would be bothered that he is spending all his free time with a widow that looks like Kate Winslet. After his wife finally leaves him, she still attends the premiere of Peter Pan. It is here that he finally tells her “I’m sorry.” And then the movie has her say, “don’t be. Without that family, you never could have written this. You need them.” Are you f’n kidding me?!? No way is that how she would really feel. But the movie needed that moment, so that the audience could walk out feeling perfectly OK with his behavior. Guess that’s why they also left out the bit about him about taking Slyvia’s will after her death and basically writing himself more into it.

Like I said, it’s a very well-done movie, and if you choose to look at it as pure fiction, it’s a very sweet and touching fantasized version of the creation of Peter Pan. But I just couldn’t help but feel like the movie was messing with me the entire time, giving me a “nice” version of the story, instead of just having faith that the true story was already captivating enough.

This review was originally posted on March 12th, 2011 at Trevor Likes Movies.

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