Film

Review: Single-Note Come Away Treats Classic Children’s Stories as Fodder for Derivative Dreck

For as much vitriol is being shot this week at the emotional dishonesty of a film like Hillbilly Elegy, I find that crime far more on display in a work like Come Away. The film pretends to be a type of origin story of both Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, but just barely grazes the surface of what makes those books so special and timeless. Coming across like writer Marissa Kate Goodhill only read the CliffsNotes of both books, Come Away centers on the Littleton family, with father Jack (David Oyelowo), who makes his living making miniature ships for rich clients (because apparently that’s a job); mother Rose (Angelina Jolie); eight-year-old Alice (Keira Yates); brother Peter (Jordan A. Nash); and their very smart, slightly older brother David (Reece Yates).

Come Away

Image credit Alex Bailey / © Maginot Line, LLC 2020

This quaint British family lives in the countryside, in some vague period in history seemingly happy and well enough off. The kids are off having tea parties, sword fights, and living lives of wild imagination that director Brenda Chapman captures nicely by showing us the fantasies that the kids are having, swapping reality and imagined worlds side by side. Without giving anything away, tragedy strikes the family, and everyone deals with their grief in different ways, including Jack who fails at meeting a deadline for a major project and doesn’t get paid. As a result, he falls off the gambling addiction wagon and basically bets everything the family has in a big risk. In an effort to save the family, the kids take a prized pocket-watch to London to pawn it, getting caught up with a nasty pawnshop owner named C.J. (or Captain James, played by David Gyasi) and his more sympathetic father—who bares a striking resemblance to the Mad Hatter (Clarke Peters).

The clumsy references dropped to the J.M. Barrie and Lewis Carroll books are so obvious and sloppy that they feel like period fan service. The Lost Boys show up as London street urchins, searching for a leader; Alice’s stuffed animal tea parties feature an array of familiar characters, while her stuffy, elitist aunt (Anna Chancellor) is clearly meant as a stand-in for the Queen of Hearts. The film also boasts cameo appearances by the likes of Michael Caine, Derek Jacobi, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the adult Alice (who tells us this story). But there’s zero sense that the filmmakers are attempting to tie the metaphors about growing up or imagination to their story, which ends up feeling completely derivative without any sense of genuine wonder or magic.

The performances by the children are generic kid performances—overreacting to every stimulus, good or bad. They’re meant to be looked at as good kids but they constantly disobey their parents. When I first heard of this film, I’d assumed Disney was putting it out, but I think even Disney would be embarrassed to release this dreck. Oyelowo and Jolie are fine, but they aren’t being challenged by this one-note material in the slightest. Come Away is a lazy slog of a film that feels like it’s talking down to younger people and flat out insulting older ones with its treatment of classic literature that likely meant something to them growing up.

The film is now available on VOD.

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