Director Branda Chapman moves from animated features, Pixar's Brave, to live-action with this hybrid of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. While 2012's Brave dealt with a female's place in a world dominated and controlled by men, a story that bled out to real-life as she was pushed off the project, Come Away deals with imagination as a way to deal with the pain of life. In that way, the film reminded me of a Terry Gilliam film that often justifies living in fantasy over reality. The other way it reminds me of Gilliam's work is the way in wants to blend kid-driven fantasy with the grim realities of an adult drama. Sadly, these two elements dual with each other rather than sing together and the result is a film that doesn't seem aimed at kid or adult audiences. Just who is Come Away for?
Rose (Angelina Jolie) and Jack (David Oyelowo) are a British couple that married across class lines. They live on a beautiful piece of land in a large Victorian house. They have three children, David (Reece Yates), Peter (Jordan A. Nash), and Alice (Keira Chansa) who are imaginative, joyous kids who create whole worlds based on Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. Then tragedy strikes the family when David dies. Everyone retreats inward in different ways. Peter and Alice retreat to the magical world in their minds, full of mad hatters, pirates, and angry queens.
Come Away focuses on the emotional challenges of adulthood and makes a strong case for Peter and Alice to stay children living in their imaginations over the adult world that often lacks any magic. This message may not be everyone's cup of tea. It is an odd message in our current times. This isn't helped by glacial pacing and tonal irregularity. Come Away wallows too long in the adult stuff and only occasionally takes off in more fantastical ways that would appeal to kids.
Oyelowo gives a complex performance here full of tense energy. Jolie doesn't fare as well here with an occasionally campy and ill-defined performance. The kid performances are broad and somewhat artificial. You can almost guess the direction they were given before each scene.
Lacking nuance and plagued with pacing issues, Come Away is unsuccessful. This is a particular shame as the production design and cinematography are fantastic. The film looks great in every way. The score is also a highlight. Chapman is clearly a talented director but doesn't seem to have a strong enough sense for who this film is for. Kids will be impatient with the slow-moving plot and adults will likely not enjoy the sillier fantasy moments. There is joy in seeing how the film cleverly weaves in details from these fairy tales but it isn't enough for me to recommend this film.