Lost in Wonder: Our Review of ‘Come Away’

Lost in Wonder: Our Review of ‘Come Away’

Set in a pseudo-fanciful reality, Come Away whisks the viewer away to the forests of England where the Littleton family live a quiet life. Parents Jack (David Oyelowo) and Rose (Angelina Jolie) love their three children. These children are David, Peter and Alice (Reece Yates, Keira Chansa and Jordan A. Nash respectively) dearly and strive to keep a happy home. However, David’s accidental death shakes his family to its core. Everyone attempts to deal with the trauma in their own way. But Peter and Alice find themselves forced to choose between home and childlike imagination. The latter seems better for both children. It opens the door for them to begin their journeys toward the mythological Neverland and Wonderland.

Come Away is an origin film (of sorts) for some of our most famous fables. It contains an indelible charisma and innocence that charms the viewer. Directed by Brenda Chapman (Brave), the film slowly grows into a feast for the eyes. It fills each scene with subtle (or sometimes not-so subtle) Easter eggs from the original mythologies. Hanging crocodiles, playing cards and bottles that say ‘drink me’ all create an atmosphere of curiosity. An atmosphere that nostalgically cues up the wonder and whimsy despite the fact that the story seems based in reality.

Adding to the atmosphere are stars Jolie (who has plenty of experience in the fantasy realm) and Oyelowo. They are clearly enjoying the world that they’re playing within and turn in solid performances. What’s more, Chansa and Nash also do an excellent job. They provide the necessary curiosity and awe that the legendary Alice and Peter require.

Somewhat ironically then, it’s worth noting the film’s greatest issue. It may be too grounded in its take on the beloved fairy tales. The film gradually leans into the more imaginative elements. But its heavy emphasis on the more realistic side of the story can lead to some confusion. It was hard sometimes to determine whether or not what’s taking place onscreen is really happening or merely in the children’s minds. While that ambiguity can work well at times, Come Away doesn’t always manage to find that balance in other moments. (For example, is the eventual transformation into the mythological Alice and Peter Pan actually taking place? Or is it more rooted in the children’s inability to cope with the death of their sibling?)

Surprisingly, there’s a sadness embedded within the enchantment that drives Come Away. As Peter and Alice increasingly discover magic and myth, their journey also includes their own processing of grief. When death lays waste to their home, their innocence is shattered. (Interestingly, Peter witnesses David’s death first hand. But all three family members who are not present instinctively sense that something is wrong. It suggests that the ripple effect of darkness extends beyond the children.)

As a result, in many ways, the film, then seems to be an attempt for the Littleton family to reclaim that innocence that was lost in the trauma. Come Away doesn’t just resort to simply asking the question of how someone moves on from moments of suffering. It is also as much about what it means to create a new world where hope is plentiful. For the Littleton children, the road to healing seems to lie in a space that is filled with mystery yet also doesn’t really exist.

Even with its slightly uneven approach to the world it offers, there is something beautiful about the fable that is Come Away. Featuring some stunning visuals, director Chapman weaves a bed time story that remains truly unique. The film isn’t always entirely sure if it wants to transport you away or leave you on the ground. But there is something magical about the journey that makes it worth taking.

  • Release Date: 11/13/2020
This post was written by
Born at a very early age, Steve is a Toronto-based writer and podcaster who loves to listen to what matters to our culture on screen. When he first saw Indiana Jones steal the cross of Coronado, he knew his world would never be the same and, since then, he’s found more and more excuses to digest what’s in front of him onscreen. Also, having worked as a youth and community minister for almost 20 years, he learned that stories help everyone engage the world around them. He’s a proud hubby, father (x2) and believes that Citizen Kane, Batman Forever (yes, the Kilmer one), and The Social Network belong in the same conversation. You can hear his ramblings on ScreenFish Radio wherever podcasts are gettable or at his website, ScreenFish.net.
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