Saving Mr. Banks (2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by: John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Rookie)
Written by: Kelly Marcel, and Sue Smith
Starring: Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti and Tom Hanks
P.L. Travers was not invited to the premiere of Mary Poppins in the States. Walt Disney was a much bigger smoker and drinker than shown in the film. The creative session with Travers and the team behind the film were taped, and yes she was mean, maybe meaner than Thompson. Travers also had a dark family history, as somewhat displayed in the film. There were historical accuracies in what was displayed, but it was often the way it was displayed that cause more problems for Saving Mr. Banks.
Banks tells the the story of two people, P. L. Travers or Mrs. Travers (Thompson) as she preferred to be called, and Walt Disney (Hanks), the man behind Mickey Mouse. When Disney's children were young her promised to make the Mary Poppins books into a film, for many years he and his team pursued Ms. Travers, but no avail. In 1961 she finally caved, and this film chronicles the two weeks Ms. Travers spent in California trying to adapt the film "which would not be a musical or contain animation." Poppins of course had both, and this film also had flashbacks to Travers child hood, which connected directly to her books.
While some will call me a grump, and say I hate films of this style, which can been seen as contrived, they may be right, but the film does not feel right. Mary Poppins is one of my favorite films from my childhood, there is such a magical experience within that film, something this film tries to capture, but you can't capture lightening in a bottle twice.
The biggest problem with the movie is the script, which had two different drafts versions combined from two different women. While their versions may have ended up feeling cohesive for some, I felt as though the script missed the mark. Banks had far too many flashbacks to Travers youth, who knew people thought in flashback as much as P.L. Travers did, maybe it was all the drugs in the air from 1960s California, or the chlorine as Thompson says in the film. There is an emotional journey, and while Travers may crankier than Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey her character has journey, which at the end does have emotional impact. The flashbacks do not work because they feel manipulative.
Emotional manipulation is the name of the game for director John Lee Hancock, who tried to get audiences to remember The Alamo, and showed us a white family saving a young black man from the streets in The Blind Side. Hancock's direction is so by the book, and it never let's the material feel authentic or merely just breathe.
Luckily for Hancock there was a strong ensemble, and two strong actors at the core of the story. Emma Thompson is brilliant as Travers, there is something fulfilling about her performance which satisfies and save this film. They give her humanity towards the end, while the real Travers never did like the final product, Thompson made me a believer in the "what if" the screen writers constructed. Thompson is a great actress, and luckily she is around to make you care about Travers; she gives the character humanity not the script.
As for the man behind the film, Hanks is great as Walt Disney, the final scene where visits Travers is just beautiful; he also captures the levity most people assume Disney had. Meanwhile Hanks portrayal of Disney adds some deeper layers I assumed would be missing, although they do no paint him as the complicated man he was, Hanks is great in this role.
If you want to see a film with heart, go see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, this film misses the mark, never achieving the impact it wants. Banks wants you to believe in the larger story, but the piece mill editing, which puts together the story of Travers is boring rather than emotional. Thompson and Hanks help create the emotional impact, and make you feel, as they both find the importance in bringing Mary Poppins to life for their own emotional well being.