Come Away is an origin story for two iconic characters in literature – Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. When tragedy strikes their family while enjoying their summer in the English countryside, Peter (Jordan A. Nash) and Alice (Keira Chansa) turn their attention away from imaginative, playful pastimes to face the harsh reality of the world their family now finds itself in. While the trailer and poster convey a magical journey full of entertainment potential, Come Away ended up falling far short of it’s marketing image and ended up punishing me with its excessive runtime consisting of a painfully bland story that didn’t need to be told.
Peter, Alice and their talented brother, David (Reece Yates) love playing outside and getting swept up in their imagination where they engage in epic battles with pirates or host wonderful tea parties for special guests. They have devoted parents who encourage their creativity but also push them to do well in their education. Their wonderful and overly perfect life starts to crack when their mother Rose (Angelina Jolie) makes arrangements to send David away to a prestigious school without consulting their father Jack (David Oyelowo).
If the thought of having their brother leave wasn’t upsetting enough, the family is utterly shattered when David is killed in a freak accident sending Rose into despair and David to his old ways of gambling. With their situation spiraling into a dark place, Peter and Alice take matters into their own hands to fix the situation since the adults don’t seem to be able to fix it themselves. As they go deeper into the rabbit hole that is the harsh reality of life, they discover that their sheltered upbringing and creative imagination may not be enough for them to escape or change the world they now find themselves in.
Being the biggest name on the poster, Angelina Jolie is probably a major drawing card for many who decide to watch this. However, if you’re expecting to see anything special or extraordinary with her performance, ala Maleficent, then think again. It’s not that she’s terrible or particularly bad. Jolie is just sort of…there: a breathless beauty just saying the words. And when I say breathless, I mean she literally sounds like she’s out of breath. I’m sure she and director Brenda Chapman (Brave, The Prince of Egypt) made this conscious decision to make her sound angelic or magical. But she just sounds like she’s genuinely out of breath – like she’s recovering from a marathon. Couple that with the slow tempo of the story and the drawn out scenes and it just added to my agitation as the story unfolded.
David Oyelowo, on the other hand, delivers a strong performance as a man out of options, out of time and out of luck. He’s a recovering gambler who falls off the wagon after losing his son and there are many powerful moments that showcase his acting chops. Even though I found the overall film to be quite benign and uninspiring, Oyelowo was able to wrest some nuggets of gold from the pan of dirt.
But enough about the adults. The real stars of Come Away are the child actors who I thought brought a lot of energy and childlike wonder that helped lift the energy of the film. Jordan A. Nash, Keira Chansa and Reece Yates, seem to genuinely enjoy themselves as they play together like siblings and weave the stories of their characters’ imagination. They were required to carry the bulk of the film and while I don’t think the end result worked, these talented kids did really well with what they had to work with.
Brenda Chapman has directed a movie that, quite frankly, is a mess. I think this is supposed to be some kind of kids or family movie and that’s the impression you get at the start. You have the abundant, overuse of magical music trying to force the mood (it drove me nuts) with scenes of childlike imagination brought to life with magical CGI. But as the story progresses things get darker and darker to the point where I turned to my wife and said “this is a kids movie?”
The poster makes me think it’s supposed to be. The trailer makes me think it’s supposed to be. But when the loan shark violence kicks in like something from a mob movie, you’re left wondering – what is this supposed to be?
Come away is a beautifully shot, well-produced film that should never have been made. When the credits roll and the relief that it’s finally over kicks in, you realize that it fails to add anything worthwhile to the characters or story of Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland. I couldn’t imagine any child having the patience to sit through its excessive runtime or any parent wanting their young child to experience the strong adult themes that jarringly break up any attempt these characters would have at a magical journey.