DVD Review: Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland

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Lifetime has a reputation for having produced some pretty terrible music biopics, among them Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B, Whitney, and Britney Ever After. Let it be known here and now: Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland breaks the trend with an engrossing depiction of the final three years in the life of its subject. Director Dianne Houston and screenwriter Elizabeth Hunter have crafted a respectful, sympathetic, and tasteful portrait of Jackson and his three children living a nomadic lifestyle in wake of his acquittal (on all counts) of various unsavory charges. Don't expect recreations of Jackson's most famous moments—this isn't a 'life story,' but rather a snapshot of the man as a single dad trying to find a new permanent home following the abandoning of Neverland.

Now available on DVD via Lionsgate, is Searching for Neverland a great movie? No, it's a made-for-TV movie and the format comes with inherent limitations. The dialogue is sometimes blunt and inelegant, with occasionally heavy-handed foreshadowing. And the acting ranges from quite good—Chad L. Coleman (The Walking Dead as head of Jackson's personal security team Bill Whitfield—to perfunctory. As Jackson, professional impersonator Navi has the look and body language down cold. But his accent sounds like Bruce Lee struggling with a British accent. I kept waiting for him to say, "Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory." Honestly, the producers should've dubbed Navi with someone who could better evoke Jackson's speech patterns.

Searching for Neverland is based on the book Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days by the aforementioned Whitfield and co-security guard Javon Beard (portrayed by Sam Adegoke, another standout performance). I've not read the book, so I've no idea how faithfully the film represents their account. But bear in mind, Searching is not the story of Jackson the lightning rod of controversy. In fact, it's just as much Whitfield and Beard's story as it is Jackson's. Throughout the film, Jackson is depicted as a man constantly searching for escape from the hounding of press and fans. There are moments of joy (a go kart race, the discovery of a perfect new home—quickly dubbed "Wonderland"—by Jackson that he and children Prince, Paris, and Blanket would never come to reside within), but mostly we see Jackson trapped.

Those who already despise Jackson for whatever reasons, perhaps choosing to believe the various charges (of which he was acquitted) and rumors, may dismiss his "struggle" as completely self-devised. Searching for Neverland may not register very deeply with that sector of the potential audience. The psycho MJ maniacs out there who believe the man walked on water will inevitably nitpick every detail. But for general audiences wishing to gain some insight into Jackson's final years, Searching is a non-sensationalized, sensitive account that is worth the time. A big surprise given Lifetime's track record.
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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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