Ugh. The semester. It has started up again. Sigh. Well, it’s my last one. Alright, to prep myself for the impending semester I’ve been watching quite a few uplifting movies so far this year. I saw Walter Mitty and I re-watched Frozen. Also The Hunt, but… yeah, whatever. I’ve got another uplifting movie for y’all:
Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
The Plot: PL Travers (Emma Thompson) is the prosperous novelist of the popular Mary Poppins series, which, for those of you somehow unfamiliar, is about a magical nanny who appears to dysfunctional families and repairs them. Despite the success of the novels, and my use of the word “prosperous” in the previous sentence, Mrs. Travers has fallen on hard times. With few other options remaining to her, she caves in to the twenty-year-old wishes of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and agrees to oversee the production of a film adaptation, retaining final say on whether or not the film is actually made. Travers’ struggles to preserve her vision against the opposing vision of Disney are intercut with flashbacks to her childhood in Australia, with a focus on her father (Colin Farrell).
Despite the outward appearance of Oscar-bait (again, Tom Hanks is playing Walt Disney), Saving Mr. Banks seems to have been made because the people making it wanted it to be made. Granted, I gather it’s not exactly what one might call accurate, but blah blah, something something, narrative completion. This film relies pretty heavily on sentimentality. It’s all about human relationships, particularly with fathers, and desperately trying to preserve dreams, and it’s also about sadness, and guilt, etc. The story is sentimental, but what’s more, the filmmakers are clearly counting on Mary Poppins being a point of sentimental nostalgia for viewers. Obviously, since the movie isn’t being filmed yet, they don’t have a lot of clips to show us, but much of the film centers on the writers Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), Robert Sherman (B.J. Novak), and Richard Sherman (Jason Schwartzman) trying to win Travers over through song. “Chim Chiminey,” “Feed the Birds,” “Spoon Full of Sugar,” “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank,” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” are all played in full. Odds are really good that if Mary Poppins meant anything to you as a child, these songs are going to conjure up some emotion.
While sentimental, the film is never hammy. In part, this is due to a devoted and truly professional cast. I mean, Emma Thompson is not going to get kitschy, is she? No. And Tom Hanks put those days behind him at the end of the ‘90s. Paul Giamatti plays Ralph, Travers’ driver, who has his own sad story, but that never gets out of hand because, you know, Paul Giamatti. Excellent performances are expected from these people. What surprised me, though, was Colin Farrell. I’ve actually… hang on, I’m thinking… yeah, I’ve never liked him in a movie before, but he does remarkably good and restrained things with his sad Australian alcoholic.
Of course, I can’t really talk about the performances in Saving Mr. Banks without talking about Emma Thompson’s Oscar snub. That’d be unprofessional. She’d certainly be right at home amongst nominees Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), and Amy Adams (American Hustle). I didn’t see Philomena or August: Osage County, but, I mean… I get that Meryl Streep is sort of unparalleled talent; we all get that; no one is contesting that; that is established, so do we really need to nominate her for every single movie she’s in? Emma Thompson was fabulous in this movie and really deserved some recognition for her role.
Okay, moving on. The other reason Saving Mr. Banks doesn’t suffer at the hands of its own sentimentality is because it is made with love, both for the Mary Poppins books and for the film. The filmmakers clearly care a whole lot about the material, they cherish it, and handle it gently. True love isn’t overwhelming, because if it is, you end up cheapening and ruining the thing that you love for other people. I could enter into an existential discussion on sharing and selfishness in love, but I’m not sure how relevant that actually is. The point I’m trying to make here is that Saving Mr. Banks is a really good movie, and it’s a bit feeling-y, but it’s a freakin’ Disney movie about the production of another, beloved Disney classic. I can excuse it.
Anyway, if the semester beginning, or work, or the disappointing Oscar nominations, or Inside Llewyn Davis is bringing you down and you need a heartwarming pick-me-up, add Saving Mr. Banks to the list. You know the story already, I guess, because the title itself is something of a spoiler. Mm… I guess it’s only a spoiler if the name “Mr. Banks” means anything to you, which would only be the case if you’re pretty familiar with Mary Poppins… in which case you would already know the point of the story and the title wouldn’t serve as any kind of emotional spoiler… well, I kind of talked myself out of that one. Oh well, too late to go back and edit that paragraph down.