Alright, first things first…this is not as horrendous as director John Lee Hancock’s “The Blind Side” from 2009. That unwatchable piece of excrement won Sandra Bullock an Oscar, and made a small fortune at the box office. No matter, it’s atrocious. The heartwarming story of a well-to-do white, southern family that took in an African-American giant, and made him a football star. Fans of this bilge have hit me with the old “it’s a true story” nonsense, to which the answer is that I bet the real story bore only minimal resemblance to what eventually made it to the screen. Questions? See “Argo”. But I long ago came to the conclusion that audiences love to be lied too. So, I give you the latest pile of bullshit to capture people’s fancy and get them all misty-eyed for a “simpler” time…”Saving Mr. Banks”. Presenting itself as the true tale of how Walt Disney doggedly pursued “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers in his quest to bring her penned creation to the big screen, you’ll know, without any research at all, that half of what you are being told belongs in Fantasyland. Then upon the teensiest bit of Googling, you quickly discover just how full of crap this ridiculous movie is. Btw, the rest of this review will be chuck full of spoilers, so if you intend to see the film and be “surprised”…you should stop reading now. But then you’ll miss all the fun.
So, I can buy the part where Mr. Disney(Tom Hanks, playing it to the rafters)flies Ms. Travers(Emma Thompson, a wonderful actress slumming as a reclusive, English caricature here)to California to coerce her into signing on the dotted line and make millions. But things almost immediately go awry. Travers manages to fuss and wince and badger and tsk at every single thing everyone around her throws her way. Yet they all treat her with the utmost kindness and good will throughout her snooty tirades. Does any of this represent how actual people behave? And is there any possible way to buy the kindly, sentimental limo driver,(with a handicapped daughter, of course!)portrayed by Paul Giamatti, that’s assigned to Ms. Travers while she’s in the good old U. S. of A? I mean, shouldn’t the filmmakers have to work a bit harder than this? We all know the final outcome of this story, after all—right? Travers signs, “Mary Poppins” is made, it’s a huge critical and financial success, and everyone lives happily ever after, correct? Well, no. You witness in the film how they belabor that whole theme of Travers not wanting animation in the finished product. Yeah, well, she actually never gives up on the whole thing in real life. She was appalled that cartoon characters were included. Because of it, she never let the Walt Disney Company produce a sequel to the film. “Saving Mr. Banks”, on the other hand, would have you believe that she wept with joy at the star-studded premiere in 1964, and even found herself guided to her seat by Mickey Mouse, himself(they should hand out either barf bags or insulin shots for that scene alone). Oh, and Walt Disney never flew to London at the last-minute to personally invite Travers to said premiere. She was actually never sent an invitation and had to go through some hardship to get herself a ticket.* You see, the real story is much more interesting, isn’t it? But for some reason, Hollywood always wants to sugarcoat this stuff. A spoonful, indeed.
And then we get the interspersed back story scenes of Travers as a little girl with her family, living in a small, almost rural area, where her Dad works as a banker. Pops is played by the superb Colin Farrell, but unfortunately every single scene involving him is shamelessly manipulative. Dad is a wonderful man you see, but he’s a horrible drunk. And it ruins his life, his career and his family. At one point his health gets so bad that Travers’ family has to hire a nanny—aaahhhhhh! Really, if you are going to fall for this stuff, and inform me that I’m crazy for not enjoying this sweet, little fable…then I honestly don’t know what to say. It’s competently directed and slickly produced, but it doesn’t have a candid emotion in its over two-hour running time. The scenes involving the songwriters(Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman & B.J. Novak)have some vitality to them, but(again)—it’s as if they are covered in rock candy. It’s all just too sweet and too gooey and too innutritious for adult consumption. But, if you must, go right ahead. Just don’t say that you weren’t warned. Grade: C-
next review up: “Museum Hours”
*editor’s note: the astute Simon Parris has informed me that I have remembered this scene incorrectly, and I stand corrected on my error. You can read the details of this mistake in the commentary section. ML