This not be Johnny Depp’s best role or even best chance to win an Oscar(tm), but that doesn’t mean Miramax isn’t going to campaign for it anyway.
Still stinging from the failure of his latest play, James Barrie (Johnny Depp) finds inspiration in the four children of a local widow (Kate Winslet). While his pretend adventures with the boys inspires Barrie’s latest work, the high society of 1903 London imagine the worst of the relationship, not the leaset of which is Barrie’s own wife, Mary (Radha Mitchell), who practically lives alone in Barrie’s absence. Everyone wants a peek inside Barrie’s secret world, but what will it cost him to at finally realize it on stage?
First of all, this may not be the truest version of the life Sir James Matthew Barrie, better known to some as the author and creator of Peter Pan; the words “based upon” appear early enough in the credits to help absolve the filmmakers for their creative dramatic liscense. Second, the ONLY reason that Dustin Hoffman appears in the film appears to be to add the words “Oscar(tm) Winner” in front his name for advertising, but this unmistakably Miramax film makes no excuse that its sights are set on nothing less than a little golden statuette. Third, Kate Winslet is in this movie because when she cries, well, everybody else cries, too (remember the previously mentioned word “Oscar”?)
Fortunately, the story has enough depth (and enough Depp) to carry it through, plus a short enough running time to gloss over any perceived shortcomings. Instead of a heavier drama, the story is told in a more enchanting style similar toBig Fish (minus Tim Burton’s darker hues), allowing for clever effects as scenes progress with Barrie moving in and out of his own imagination. The story is essentially that of an imaginative man trying to find a way to let loose his innermost child, and his belief in the need for pretend is in no way diminished by any profit such a production could net him. As Barrie navigates the obstacles in his life, Depp carries the film to suffer for everyone who can’t see the world as Barrie does.
For those with the imagination to see beyond what is there and into what could be, the story can’t help but ring true for those desperate to share their vision with others while always concerned for those who cannot. For those rolling their eyes at a beautiful melodrama with beautiful players pining for an award, you’re right, but it’s an enjoyable film nonetheless.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)