It’s difficult to watch a film that’s sure to be on plenty of people’s — if not everyone’s — best-of list for 2013, perhaps a shoo-in for the Academy Awards next year, too, and just think well that was fine. In reality, author of Mary Poppins P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) was a stubborn and snobby person who thought (perhaps rightfully so) that her story was much darker than what Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and Co. wanted to create in film. She hated Mary Poppins the movie all the way until the day she died. And, yes, maybe she had some reason to be a bit reserved.
But, unfortunately, what Disney did with Saving Mr. Banks is the same they did with Mary Poppins: schmaltz up what was undeniably a grittier story.
Apparently if you’ve had a drunk for a father (Colin Farrell) and a lower-class upbringing which made you a stick in the mud, all you need is a little song and dance in the form of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” But that’s beside the point, because Saving Mr. Banks is kind of like two movies in one, and the one I’m referencing now is actually the good one.
Saving Mr. Banks spends equal time telling the story of P.L. Travers’ reluctance to sell the movie rights to Mary Poppins and then flashing back to her childhood. The problem is that while the flashbacks help tell the story about why Pamela/Mrs./Mrs. Travers (movie inside joke) is so connected to Mary Poppins, it does it all with the subtlety of a bull in a china shop. More than that, it’s oftentimes hackneyed and crazily on-the-nose. Take, as an example, when the songwriters and scriptwriter are singing the tuppence song which completely matches what Mrs. Travers’ father is saying in her flashback. Verbatim.
Mostly, it takes forever to get to the point of the flashback. We did not need an entire movie of them, quite honestly. And Saving Mr. Banks suffers a lot from that kind of redundancy, never ceasing to make P.L. Travers needlessly cruel about any slight matter.
That said, the so-called “present day” story (that takes place in the past) of Travers selling the Mary Poppins rights are quite a joy. They are almost pitch-perfect. They’re also genuinely funny. Even seemingly sentimental moments like Travers connecting with her driver (Paul Giamatti) during the present-day story are 100 percent enjoyable.
That said, everyone’s performances — and I do mean everyone’s — is just absolutely fantastic. They truly bring it, and I definitely believe Thompson is going to rack up the awards this upcoming movie season. Hanks is perfect as Walt, Farrell is fantastic as Travers’ father, and even the young actress who plays P.L. Travers as a child is a delight.
Your mileage may vary depending on how you handle sentimentality. My 26-year-old male cousin almost cried. I, however, rolled my eyes a few times waiting for the next punchline to hit.