It’s easier to live in the fantasy world than it is in the real world.
“Come Away” is the next artisan film this year to channel on the “Peter Pan” story after Benh Zeitlin gave a Louisiana feel in “Wendy.” That movie was beautifully filmed with its locations and performances from the young leads, but it grew up too fast with its story. In “Come Away,” it has fine performances and some whimsical adventures, but it can’t seem to balance reality and fantasy. It ends up being confusing and meandering, especially if it’s marketed as a children’s film. At least I think it’s supposed to be a children’s film, considering that there wasn’t much buzz for this.
We meet three happy children-David (Reece Yates), Peter (Jordan A. Nash), and Alice (Keira Chansa)-whose fantasies and adventures are inspired by “Peter Pan” and “Alice in Wonderland,” and their loving parents Jack (David Oyelowo) and Rose Littleton (Angelina Jolie). They live a beautiful life, which balances the fun and discipline. For example: Peter is failing his classes due to his dreams, and is not allowed to play outside until his homework is finished. And yet, at the same time, the father tells him to never lose faith in himself.
Just as he’s preparing to go to a private school, funded by their snobby aunt (Anna Chancellor), David dies in a simple pirate’s game. Ultimately, this sets off a series a turmoil for the family. Peter cuts back on the fantasies and improves on his studies. The aunt intends to make Alice a proper young lady. Rose begins to develop stern attitude. And Jack’s gambling debt comes back to threaten both him and his family.
As they try to set things right with their parents, Peter and Alice respectively plan to escape into their stories. The fantasies they’re engaged in throughout the movie are whimsical when they’re sincere and not special effects-oriented. For instance, they travel to London to sell their father’s family pocket watch, and join a group of orphaned boys in a chase sequence. I was reminded of the police chase scene in “Slumdog Millionaire” with how this is presented.
And then, they come across a kooky pawn shop geezer-inspired by the Mad Hatter (Clarke Peters)-and the stern owner-inspired by Captain Hook (David Gyasi). His name is Captain James, or CJ for short. But when we do get to the fantasy worlds later in the picture, it’s often difficult to comprehend what’s actually happening in the real world. Do the fantasies actually happen or are they representations of what is meant to be?
The supporting cast also includes Michael Caine as Jack’s gambling buddy, Derek Jacobi as a model ship collector (and Jack crafts them BTW), and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the older Alice, who tells her three children the stories about her life.
“Come Away” was directed by Brenda Chapman, who previously made the animated features “The Prince of Egypt” and “Brave,” and wrote “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” She does an affective job of showing us the innocent children’s activities and their true realities, while guiding Jolie, Oyelowo, Yates, Nash, Chansa, and Chancellor with fine performances.
Their acting is both passionate and full of life, and their characters must come to terms with their worlds. That I commend the movie for, but the story is so depressing and befuddled, that I can’t exactly call it a film for children. There are moments when the mother nearly resorts to drinking, and when the father loses his hand. It just just goes to show that “Come Away” acknowledges that children need to grow up, and it does it too much. I admired the fantasies more than the reality, but it all becomes just a coin flip on what is fiction and nonfiction.
In Select Theaters and On Demand This Friday