VOD film review: Come Away
James R | On 10, Feb 2021
Director: Brenda Chapman
Cast: Jordan Nash, Keira Chansa, David Oyelowo, Angelina Jolie, Clarke Peters, David Gyasi, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
“Peter, don’t let life take you down. Just keep floating above it.” That’s Jack (David Oyelowo) in Brenda Chapman’s fairytale drama Come Away. He’s speaking to his son, Peter (Jordan Nash), who is the brother of Alice (Keira Chansa). If those names are sparking connections with some icons of children’s literature, it’s no coincidence – this is Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland but not as we know them, two siblings whose lives are intertwined with elements of fantasy in a way that’s ambitious, imaginative and sometimes a bit muddled.
Peter and Alice escape into their playful fantasies after their brother passes away, leaving the whole family – particularly parents Jack and Rose (Angelina Jolie) – struggling to come to terms with their loss. While Jack disappears into drink and gambling, Peter and Alice find comfort in notions of fairies, lost boys and looking glasses, clinging to a pocket watch heirloom like a magical piece of treasure.
The more the duo try to find a real life value for that object’s sentimental worth, though, the more Come Away’s central weakness becomes apparent; an ambitious exploration of the line between reality and fantasy, and the way that creativity can provide comfort, hope and reconciliation with the painful elements of life, the film doesn’t quite manage to draw that line coherently, torn between tackling adult subjects and child-friendly characters. The script by Marissa Kate Goodhill deeply understands the important role of imagination in growing up, but lacks the profound clarity of Bridge To Terabithia, My Neighbour Totoro or A Monster Calls.
Chapman, who helmed Pixar’s Brave, does a wonderful job of letting fantasy intrude into real life, from lost boys bursting out of trees to white rabbits disappearing down holes. The cast, too, are fully on board, with Oyelowo and Jolie convincingly conveying their unspoken sadness, and Anna Chancellor proving suitably frosty as the snooty Aunt Eleanor. It’s a treat, too, to see Clarke Peters’ hat-wearing menace, David Gyasi’s intimidating Captain James and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s older Alice quietly diversifying the way we see and tell children’s stories.
But the more the film tries to weave its spell, the more complicated the web between Lewis Caroll and JM Barrie becomes, leaving you distracted by questions of whether we’re witnessing the origins of their characters or reinventions of their legacies. At the film’s heart, though, is a charming earnestness that keeps things floating just above such concerns – even if only until the end credits.