Titles are one of the most important aspects of a film. In one, two, or a handful of words, a title has to tell us what the movie is about, be intriguing enough to convince us to spend money to watch the film, be memorable, and not be so long as to have diarrhea of the mouth. I assume film studios employ writers whose entire job description is to think of clever movie titles, which is why I am always astounded by titles that fail to achieve any of those things. True, a title is not the only thing trying to convince you to watch a film, but it helps when it hits its mark. And if the title does not make sense prior to us watching the film, it definitely should make sense by the end (think Inception). Come Away only manages to be a short title and does not make sense once the end credits roll. A lot like the movie itself.
(SPOILER ALERT – If you are not familiar with Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland, well, it probably doesn’t matter.)
The Littletons live somewhere on the outskirts of mid-to-late-1800s London. Jack (David Oyelowo) is a craftsman who specializes in intricate, scale-model wooden ships. No, really – that is his literal job and, apparently, it pays pretty well. His wife Rose (Angelina Jolie) tends to the children, encouraging their imaginations. The three children, Alice (Keira Chansa), Peter (Jordan A. Nash), and David (Reece Yates) are happy to oblige her. When the kids are not imagining fighting pirates on a dilapidated boat, they are imagining tea parties with rabbits and mice. Life seems pretty bucolic for the Littletons. That is until the day David slips off the old boat into the river, then lightning strikes the river, killing young David.
Each of the Littletons handles their grief in different ways. Jack goes back to gambling in the city, Rose makes a hat she promised for David while drowning herself in alcohol, and Alice and Peter wrestle with putting away their fantasies and childhood in order to act like adults to cope with their parents all but stopping being parents. If the first act was a bit confusing because no real plot is ever developed, the second and third acts compound the problem by mixing in the kids’ Wonderland and Neverland fantasies with real life. Throw in Jack’s mobster brother to whom who Jack owes money, and we have a real hot mess on our hands.
It is easy to see what the film was going for, but also easy to see how it fails. As the kids try to understand and fix their parents’ problems, the fantasies start to become reality. Peter’s table carvings start moving, trying to get him to play again rather than study. Alice takes a drink of her mother’s booze and shrinks down in size. At one point, the kids sneak into London to pawn Jack’s pocket watch, coming face-to-face with a mad hatter, some lost boys, and a Captain James (David Gyasi). The film blurs reality and fantasy, but not in a coherent or consistent way, especially not in a way that ties into what little plot exists. By the end of the film, the fantasies become self-fulfilling rather than remaining allegory, leaving us to believe that Peter really does become Peter Pan and Alice really did go down the rabbit hole.
By the end of what turned out to be a sloppy story, even my eight-year old son was confused. In more capable hands, the allegory would have played out to the end, but also would have been more infused with reality from the beginning. For one thing, Jack never figures into the allegory at all, but Rose briefly does when Alice briefly sees her as the Queen of Hearts near the end of the film. However, this scene fails because Rose never acts like the Queen of Hearts, nor does Alice see her as such, prior to that point in the film. For another, many of the subplots are not introduced until late in the film. The Mad Hatter could have worked out great if we had met him far earlier in the film and knew who he really was. Instead, like Rose suddenly flashing as the Queen of Hearts, the Hatter’s revelation comes out of nowhere and fails to evoke any reaction from us.
As the credits rolled my son asked “why is the movie called Come Away?” My answer then was the same as now – I have no idea. Come away with who? Who should come away? Come away where? Neverland? Wonderland? Both? Has lightning ever actually struck a river in a densely wooded forest? It’s a title that is never met with an AHA! moment. Either the person who came up with the title was lazy or watched the movie and decided a confusing movie deserved a confusing title.
Rating: Ask for all but two dollars back because it was a neat idea at least.