Saving Mr. Banks
Cert: PG / 125 mins / Dir. John Lee Hancock
It's not every day that I go and see a film starring two leads I don't particularly care for, the subject of which being another film which I don't particularly care for. Then again, it's not every day that I love it, either. Maybe it's just the right movie at the right time, but I found the whole thing entirely charming, powered by a well-earned tweeness that's entirely in keeping with the surrounding narrative.
Emma Thompson is outstanding as Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers. You never forget that it's Thompson you're watching, if you get my drift, but she inhabits the role so well that you can't help but feel for the emotionally crippled writer in not wanting to let go of the one aspect of her life that brings her any joy and control. Similarly, Tom Hanks supports her ably with his Walt Disney impersonation*1, and manages to bring some warmth to the character who only wants permission to play in the same sandbox. Colin Farrell puts in a restrained turn as Travers' troubled father Robert, but seems to play the character in a way which suggests it was initially written for Johnny Depp, somehow. Other highpoints in the cast are BJ Novak, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford and Melanie Paxson, starring as the long-suffering Disney staff who gently shepherd Travers through the screenwriting process.
The story takes place in 1906 in Australia*2, and 1961 in Los Angeles, focusing on two key periods in Travers' life. We cut between them throughout the film, and even though the outcome of each thread is fairly clear*3 the events of the past are revealed in a way which builds the emotional resonance in the 'present' of 1961. The revealed sadness of Travers' early life comes not from any twist in the story, but the crushing inevitability of it all. In terms of the depicted drama, I don't know how true to life this telling of the story is, but it's told earnestly enough to work in this context. There's also a great audio sequence played under the end credits which at least lends credence to one scene in the film. On an emotional level it's hugely manipulative, but then again, it's a Disney film about a Disney film, so I expect nothing less; they've got a track record of doing that well, and it's upheld here.
It won't be to everyone's tastes, and it hasn't made me see Mary Poppins in a new light*4, but Saving Mr. Banks achieves its goals perfectly.
Very sweet, very funny, eminently watchable. Enjoy.
For best results, file alongside My Week With Marilyn and Hitchcock.
You won't lose anything by watching it on DVD, but the cinema's going to be more immersive.
Despite the very touching visual tributes to David Tomlinson, I can't have been the only one thinking that the sketches of Mr Banks on the storyboards (three years before the film was released) wouldn't look that much like the actor who hadn't yet been cast, can I?
*1 Hey, I never met the guy, I imagine he's doing it very well.
*2 They did say (and show) where in Australia the family move to, but I didn't catch it. Sorry Australians, I am terrible, I know. I'm not familiar with your geography, I'm afraid.
*4 SPOILER! Travers decides to grant Disney the rights to make the Mary Poppins film, in the end.
*4 Yeah, I'll be honest, I tried to watch it again last weekend in prep for Saving Mr Banks, but only made it an hour and a half through. That film is slow. The main character doesn't appear until 25 minutes in. It's mad.
*5 Despite Thompson's character being constantly referred to as Pam and Pamela, I like to think that her nom de plume was Pave Lee Travers. Yes, I know I'm not normal. Especially as this footnote #5 has no corresponding asterisk in the above review.
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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