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- Published on Amazon.com
NEVERWAS, a little miracle of a movie written and directed by Joshua Michael Stern, is an allegory, a fairytale, a dissection of the impact of mental illness on parents and children, and story of compassion, believing, and blossoming of character that was created with a sterling ensemble of actors in 2005, failed to find a niche in theatrical distribution, and went straight to DVD - becoming one of those limited release films that is very elusive even in the megavideo stores. The reasons for this relative anonymity are not clear, but film lovers will do well searching out this little gem: the rewards are immediate gratification and long lasting satisfaction.
Narrated by Ian McKellan who plays a major role in the film, the story concerns the return of psychiatrist Zachary Riley/Small (Aaron Eckhart) to an obsolete mental institution named Millhouse, the hospital where his author father T.L. Pierson (Nick Nolte) ended his days in suicide, having suffered from bipolar syndrome. Zach wants to discover secrets about his father, why his father's book 'Neverwas' has been so disturbing to Zach, and to offer good medical treatment to those patients living in the obscure hospital run by the kindly but enigmatic Dr. Reed (William Hurt). Zach is buoyant, greets his new job with joy, and works with various patients in group and individual therapy (the group includes well developed characters portrayed by Alan Cumming, Vera Farmiga, and Michael Moriarty, among others) and encounters the apparently mute Gabriel Finch (Ian McKellan), a delusional man who believes Zach has returned to break the curse preventing his return to his imaginary kingdom of Neverwas.
Zach meets a 'grad student botantist'/reporter Ally (Brittany Murphy) who loves Zach's father's book and urges Zach to read the fairytale as a means to assuage Zach's new nightly nightmares and insomnia dealing with images of himself as a child, his father's suicide, and other strange forces. Ally's commitment to Zach's father's book, Zach's breakthrough to Gabriel Finch, together with Zach's re-evaluation of his agoraphobic mother (Jessica Lange) all intertwine to reestablish Zach's discovery of his relationship to a father whose mental illness prevented the close relationship Zach so desperately missed. In a tumbling set of events that incorporate the fairytale of the book Neverwas with the reality of Zach's father's relationship to Gabriel Finch brings the story to a heartwarming, well considered, touching conclusion. Being 'unordinary' is a goal, not a curse.
In addition to the above-mentioned stellar cast, small parts are also created by Bill Bellamy, Ken Roberts, Cynthia Stevenson among others. The cinematography by Michael Grady manages to keep the audience balanced between real and fantasy and the musical score by renowned composer Philip Glass fits the story like a glove. Ian McKellan gives a multifaceted performance of a man whose delusional life is far more real than his life as a mental patient, Aaron Eckhart finesses the transformation of the lost child seeking his roots with great skill, Nick Nolte gives one of his finer interpretations as the disturbed father/author, and Brittany Murphy manages to maintain a much needed lightness to the atmosphere of the mental institution story setting. The impact of the film, while absorbing from the first images, is the ending, a reinforcement of the importance of love and nurturing that too often is relegated to little books for children instead of the manner in which we live our lives. This is a fine film well worth ferreting out from the obscurity to which it so unjustly has been assigned. Grady Harp, October 07