[Screen It]


(2020) (Jordan A. Nash, Keira Chansa) (PG)

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Drama/Fantasy: A tragedy affects a family to such a degree that a young brother and sister escape into their own imaginary worlds.

Thanks to their parents, Rose (ANGELINA JOLIE) and Jack (DAVID OYELOWO), encouraging their creativity, siblings Peter (JORDAN A. NASH), Alice (KEIRA CHANSA), and David (REECE YATES) are happy kids with vivid imaginations. Eleanor (ANNA CHANCELLOR), their married and well-to-do but childless aunt, sees things differently. That includes her belief that Alice isn't enough of a proper and refined young lady -- citing she doesn't need to be like her lower-class father -- and that oldest son David should go off to boarding school.

The fact that Rose has agreed with the latter without consulting David or his father puts a strain on the family. As does a tragedy that strikes soon thereafter, leaving the various family members to cope in their own ways. With that including Peter wanting to run off with an imaginary pack of Lost Boys and Alice wanting to escape into a surreal Wonderland, it's unclear how things will ultimately play out.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10

I've never really wondered about the instinctual connection, but isn't it interesting that among animals -- including humans -- play universally occurs far more among younger critters (and people) than adults? Sure, there are exceptions to the rule -- we had a cat that loved playing through her seventeenth and final year and there are adults who continue to play to one degree and level or another through middle age and beyond.

But kids of all species seem to have an innate need to play and usually do so with hardy abandon. For non-human animals, I understand that helps hone certain hunting or survival skills and it's often used to determine the pecking order. That's less true among people where it usually occurs simply because it's fun and definitely falls into the escapism category. Yet, sometimes that escapism is also from a harsh reality and such play allows for the regaining of (or attempt thereof) control.

Both forms are on display in "Come Away," a mash-up of sorts of Lewis Carroll's trippy "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and J. M. Barrie's Toys R Us' theme song inspiring "Peter Pan."

Written by Marissa Kate Goodhill and directed by Brenda Chapman (who makes her live-action feature debut after co-helming Pixar's "Brave" a few years back), the film features bookend segments where Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays the adult narrator telling her tale to her three young kids. Her story is about three siblings -- David (Reece Yates), Alice (Keira Chansa), and Peter (Jordan Nash) -- who live outside London sometime in the past with their cross-racial and cross economic class parents -- Rose (Angelina Jolie) and Jack (Oyelowo).

Despite Jack being in debt to a tough guy figure who isn't identified until later in the 90-some minute film, and Rose's upper-class sister, Eleanor (Anna Chancellor), being highly opinionated about how the kids are being raised, they're a happy bunch, with the parents instilling a love of imagination and creativity in their kids.

Alice has tea parties with her stuffed rabbit and other toys when not acting as Tiger Lily with her brothers who imagine sticks as swords and spears to be used to battle pirates, while a small overturned boat is an impressive sailing ship in their minds.

But then reality kicks in, first when Eleanor informs David that he's going to be sent off to boarding school and then when tragedy strikes the family. Suddenly -- and understandably -- all of the fun has been sucked from their universe. Jack feels more pressure about his debt, Rose takes to drinking to drown her grief and sorrows, and Peter and Alice realize they need to grow up and take some financial pressure off their parents' hands, resulting in a somewhat surreal visit to a London pawnshop.

Yet the original form of escape is never far away, with the creative side of that option coming back in full force with Peter imagining the Lost Boys wanting him to run away with them and never grow old, while Alice decides to guzzle down her mom's "magic potion" (her booze) and suddenly finds herself quite small. Cue Grace Slick and her "White Rabbit" lyrics (not really, but they certainly come to mind).

The performances are good across the board and the film is pretty in a sort of lushly hypnotic sort of way. Yet, while I was intrigued by the themes at play as well as the premise of mixing Carroll's and Barrie's worlds and characters, it never feels like Chapman gets a full grip on or complete control of the idea and material.

I understand the combination of reality and fantasy -- and that sometimes we're presumably not supposed to understand which is which at certain moments -- but all of that simply didn't gel enough for me in any sort of truly entertaining, enlightening, or emotionally moving sort of way (although there are moments of all of that).

Perhaps too ambitious but also not creative or imaginative enough in conceiving and then executing the mash-up material, "Come Away" might feel too undercooked for adults and not playful enough for kids. It rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 9, 2020 / Posted November 13, 2020

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