Why do some people yearn to return to their childhood? Is it the lure of carefree days devoid of adult responsibilities? Are they seeking a world where the hero always conquers, and any dream believed in hard enough could come true? Can they be looking for Neverland?
James Matthew Barrie (Johnny Depp) is a successful author who has just written a very unsuccessful play. Disappointed but convinced he can do better next time, the gentleman goes for a walk in a nearby park hunting for inspiration. There he meets a family of young boys and their widowed mother Sylvia (Kate Winslet). Obviously fond of children, the man begins to entertain them with comical faces and fanciful tales. Although most of the Llewelyn-Davies are smitten with his charm, young Peter (Freddie Highmore) who is struggling to come to terms with the death of his father, refuses to enter his world of imagination.
When Barrie returns home and tells his wife of his encounter, Mary (Radha Mitchell) immediately suggests they invite the family and their socially prominent grandmother (Julie Christie) for dinner. However, after an awkward evening where the financial floundering of the single mother is exposed, Mary losses interest in pursuing a friendship.
But such is not the case for Barrie. Dropping by frequently, he plays with the boys, tries to help Sylvia coax Peter back into the world of childhood games, and offers charity where needed. In-between pretend adventures of cowboys, Indians and swashbuckling pirates, he jots down notes in his journal -- tidbits he hopes will materialize into a script one day.
His regular escapes to the Llewelyn-Davies' home soon have gossiping tongues wagging about the married man's relationship with the widow and questioning the appropriate nature of his affection for her children. These rumors also anger the Grandmother and push Barrie's already distant spouse further away.
Meanwhile, the theater owner (Dustin Hoffman) who has agreed to produce Barrie's upcoming work is sure he has taken leave of his senses too. What possible profit can be expected from a crazy story about fairies, flying children, and a boy who refuses to grow up?
Regardless of the harsh realities, Barrie persists with his friendship and play, believing his gift of Neverland may be the best medicine for the ailing world he finds himself surrounded by.
While this film centers on the classic tale of Peter Pan, it isn't likely to appeal to children. Not because it contains objectionable content, but because it is a mature look at the parallels between the story's main character and its author.
Just like the fictional Peter Pan, Barrie is reluctant to grow up. Taking refuge from his own responsibilities by becoming one of the boys in the Llewelyn-Davies family, he ignores the conventions of society--and the ongoing gossip. Perhaps he's too innocent to understand the wisdom of these time-honored boundaries or how his actions could be misconstrued. Grandmother, who exists rigidly within these rules, becomes the enemy when she can only see the situation from an adult point of view. As real life pushes at him from every side, Barrie needs to decide if he is finally ready to cross the threshold into the grown-up world.
Although the subtly of this beautifully made and acted film may not provide clear answers for the viewers, it will certainly spark many points for discussion. And that alone indicates a well-crafted script! Slipping seamlessly between depictions of fantasy and reality, the audience can't help but join in the elusive quest of Finding Neverland.