Movie Review: When Peter Pan makes a promise, “The Lost Girls” wait for him

We can’t quit “Peter Pan.”

A simple children’s play with themes of mortality, vanishing youth, feminine teenaged longing for Peter and boys-who-don’t-grow-into-men (“Peter Pan Syndrome”) and death and dying, aka the ultimate “awfully big adventure,” have proven irresistible to novelists and filmmakers looking for new takes on the original or new truths plumbed from it.

“The Lost Girls” is based on a Laurie Fox novel about generations of Darling girls haunted, tormented, lusting after and abandoned by Peter Pan. The film is something of an unemotional muddle, never quite finding the heart of mother-daughter love it so seems to want to test in this story.

Peter visits Wendy, her daughter, granddaughter, great and then great great granddaughter in turn. Perhaps the original “Wendy” is the only one who left Neverland unscathed. One Darling girl is enchanted. One runs off to be with him. And one tries to turn the Darling female “storytelling” gene towards something constructive, publishing, and spare her own daughter the trauma of outgrowing the boy who never grows up.

Italian writer, director and actress Livia De Paolis cast Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson as two of the Darling generations. Siobhan Hewlett is “the original” Wendy, predating those two, and Emily Carey and Amelia Minto play the young, modern Wendy who grows up to be played De Paolis herself, a Wendy whose not-bad life seems haunted by the trauma of that first love, Peter, played by Louis Partridge.

Confusing? Somewhat.

Modern Wendy’s beef with Peter spins from the fact that she grew up, raised by her abandoned dad (Julian Ovenden). Her mom, Jane (Richardson) was never in the picture, and we can guess where she got off to, and so can Wendy.

But that doesn’t keep Wendy from practically drooling over boy-band-ready Peter on the night her grandmother’s smiling, affectionate “warnings” about Peter come true.

“You will meet a boy” who will show up in a jerkin, weeping, at the foot of your bed. You’ll fall for him and follow him to “a place where you’re never, ever bored.”

When that happens to this Wendy, she never gets over it. Even after she’s met a musician (Parker Sawyers), fallen in love and they’ve gotten pregnant. Wendy has her pangs of doubt, very pregnant, right there at the altar.

“He promised to come back for me! The NEXT summer!”

I can’t vouch for Fox’s adult fantasy novel, but the movie leaves some interesting things about women in love and picking the wrong guy for us to unpack.

I was reminded of that line from “The Counselor,” the lurid mob lawyer thriller starring Michael Fassbender as that lawyer, Javier Bardem as that mobster and infamously, Cameron Diaz as a mob moll who has sex with a car. Bardem’s mob man of the world utters one of the great truisms of male/female relations in Cormac McCarthy’s script.

“The truth about women is you can do anything to them except bore them.”

Every Wendy (or Jane) in “The Lost Girls” is bored by what they came back to, thrilled and tested by a world and a life which Jane seemed most reluctant to leave. It doesn’t matter if “the boy” doesn’t grow up. They still miss him and Neverland. I couldn’t decide if the movie was “judging” this predisposition, or not. It’s unclear.

What’s crystal clear is that the director cast herself as the lead, a woman who looks a bit like “teen Wendy” all grown up, but who now speaks with an unmistakable, unexplainable Italian accent.

In a film with British acting royalty in two roles, with Redgrave at her luminous best, and the highly regarded Carey (“Wonder Woman”) and impressively-experienced Ella Rae Smith (as Wendy’s adult daughter) in support, De Paolis is utterly out of her league — an inexperienced, dull and delusional (in casting herself) lead.

One can mull over what themes stand out and which ones feel underdeveloped, and argue the merits of sexualizing Wendy and Peter Pan, with Captain Hook (Iaian Glenn, another acting heavyweight) giving off pervy, creeper coming-on-to-teen-Wendy vibes.

But in a story that’s slackly-paced and drawn-out, a psychological exercise in literary (theatrical) criticism, having your leading lady stand out simply because she doesn’t “fit” is a deal breaker. De Paolis can’t make Wendy’s mercurial mood swings sympathetic or her angst interesting.

How one wishes for the telltale tics of Tic Tock Croc, anything to goose this and give our story urgency amidst all this brooding angst, a welcome distraction from an uninteresting central character rendered in flat strokes.

Rating: unrated, some profanity

Cast: Livia De Paolis, Louis Partridge, Parker Sawyers, Emily Carey, Julian Ovenden, Ella Rae Smith, Joely Richardson, Iain Glenn and Vanessa Redgrave

Credits: Directed by Livia De Paolis, scripted by and Livia De Paolis, based on a novel by Laurie Fox. A Vertical release.

Running time: 1:46

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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