Santa Cruz Good Times

Thursday
Sep 03rd
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Bet on ‘Banks’

film1 Saving-Mr-Banks‘Saving Mr. Banks’ surpasses expectations and delivers the compelling backstory of bringing ‘Mary Poppins’ to the big screen

Sometimes the backstory to a creative work is more intriguing than the actual finished product. Not all of the time, of course, but chances are the route in which, say, J.M. Barrie took to bring the 1911 novel “Peter Pan” to life holds some sizzle. Others might be surprised with the creative hoops writer Anita Loos may have gone through to lift her beloved book “Gentleman Prefer Blondes” from page to screen in the 1950s—and with Marilyn Monroe on the marquee.

And so it goes. It’s all in the drama that happens to get the drama made.

This must have been something that screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith saw as a stellar opportunity when they took on the precarious task of penning Saving Mr. Banks. Precarious because the writers don’t boast a lengthy list of screenwriting credits and, let’s face it, writing a film for a studio (Disney) that chronicles how that studio took something as revered as “Mary Poppins” to the big screen could have easily morphed into a cringe-worthy, self-congratulatory affair.

But here’s the good news: Saving Mr. Banks is nothing like that. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll be moved. There’s something there—on screen—a kind of warmth that doesn’t devolve into just sugar-coated sentiment. You become invested in the characters and their journey. For relatively unknown screenwriters, they add surprising depth to a tale that chronicles the three-week period in the lives of Walt Disney and “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers as they attempt to join forces.

Saving Mr. Banks certainly ranks up there as the season’s best outings but take note: None of it would work so wonderfully if two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson had not been cast in the lead. As Travers, the actress disappears into the role of the prickly London-based author who, for 20 years, held Disney at arm’s length, refusing to sign off on the film rights of her acclaimed 1934 book. (There were four Poppins tales in all.) Thompson may be one of the few actresses of her generation—Meryl Streep, Judi Dench also come to mind—who can effectively “act” with just the arch of an eyebrow. She does all that (and much more) here as her character, forced to accept that her book sales have dipped, reluctantly agrees to finally meet with Disney and his team and see where the creative road takes them.

Some of the film’s early scenes, in which Travers first arrives on the Disney lot in 1961, are remarkably played out. Thompson effectively captures Travers’ fussiness over handing over her work to a studio that’s developed, what she calls, “empty pap” and “flim flam;” a money-making machine intent on butchering her tale and reworking her beloved Mary until its spoonfed to the masses as a “brain full of fluff” and something that twinkles “toward a happy ending.”

(Oh, Ms. Thompson, you do deserve that Golden Globe nomination—yes, you do.)

With remarkably believable nuance, Tom Hanks walks steady here playing Disney. In fact, he and Thompson may have quite possibly created the year’s most believable on-screen couple—even though there isn’t a hint of romantic spark between the two characters. The fun is in witnessing Disney’s attempts to understand Travers and melt her icy resolve.

There’s a backstory to that, too, and the film finds most of its heart in a series of flashbacks that takes the audience deeper into Travers’ life as a young girl (then Helen Lyndon Goff) living in rural Australia in 1906 with her two younger sisters, a befuddled mother and an alcoholic father (a fine turn by Colin Farrell) she can’t help but idolize. The genesis of “Mary Poppins” happens during Travers’ early years, and it seems the more the author comes ever closer to relinquishing her hold on her work in real time, the more she finds herself “at war with herself” as once-buried emotions resurface.

Director John Lee Hancock, who delivered sentiment in The Rookie—and who was also scoffed at for the sentiment he brought to The Blind Side—doesn’t tip the scales too much in one direction in this outing. The journey in which we become most invested, thankfully, is Travers’. Sure, it’s a delight to see the inner workings of how “Mary Poppins” was made—all that music and a cast here of supporting players that are spot on—but the real pay off is how smoothly we become invested in Travers’ personal journey.

You become acutely aware of this toward the end of the film in which Hanks, as Disney, opens up to Travers and expounds upon his own life. It’s some fine acting and somehow brings it all home … that the challenging memories of the past, lodged somewhere in the nether regions of the heart and mind, are offered the best relief—and release for that matter—with the help of the imagination. Not as an escape, but as a tool for catharsis. This isn’t just Travers’ journey, the filmmakers hint—but one we all are, whether we like it or not, invited to travel on. 


Saving Mr. Banks ★ ★ ★ (out of four) With Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Bradley Whitford, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Kathy Baker, Rachel Griffiths and Annie Rose Buckley. Written by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith. Directed by John Lee Hancock. Rated PG-13. 125 minutes.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

You Are What You Post

Online personality algorithms put astrological profiles to shame, but UCSC psychologists are raising questions about sharing personal data

 

Venus Direct, Mercury Retro Soon, Honoring Our Labors

As Burning Man (nine days, Aug. 30-Sept. 7 in the sign of Virgo) burns in the hot white desert sands, a petal of the rose created by retrograde Venus and the twelve-petaled Sun in Virgo’s petals unfold. All of us are on the burning ground (Leo) in the womb (cave of the heart) of the mother (Virgo), gestating for humanity once again (each year) a new state of consciousness. Both Virgo and Cancer, feminine (receptive energies) signs, are from our last solar system (Pleiades). When humanity first appeared on Earth we were nurtured by the mother, a matriarchy of energies (on islands in the Pacific). Eve, Isis and Mary are part of the lineages of our ancient Mother. Overseen by the Pleiades, the Earth (matter, mater, the mother) in that last solar system was imbued with intelligence (Ray 3). As we move toward autumn, another mother, Ceres realizes she has mere weeks left with her beloved daughter, Persephone. Persimmon and pomegranate trees prepare for autumn, their colors signs of hope as the light each day continues to dim. Sunday, Venus in Leo turns stationary direct, yet continues in her shadow until Oct. 9 (when retrograde Mercury turns direct). Slowly our newly assessed values emerge from the Venus retrograde. We thought in Venus retro how to use our resources more effectively. Mercury retrogrades Sept. 17. Monday is Labor Day. Let us honor the labor of everyone, all life a “labor.” Let us honor Labor Day and all those who have “served” (labored for) us this past year. We honor their labors. We honor the labor of our parents, those who have loved us. We honor our own labors, too. We are all in service, we are all laboring. We are all valuable.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Girl Gone Wild

’70s SF recalled in raw, poignant ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Sushi Garden

Local sushi empire expands to Scotts Valley

 

Do you overshare online?

I don’t think so. I just post things about my life, like successful things. Sometimes I just like sharing different news that I find interesting, or favorite artists, clothes, music. I like to post photos. Natalia Delgado, Santa Cruz, Server

 

McIntyre Vineyards

I recently met up with three friends for dinner at Sanderlings at Seascape Beach Resort. We chose to eat outside so we could watch the sun set over the ocean, but the Aptos fog rolled in and swallowed it up.

 

Sustainable Supper

The Homeless Garden Project’s Sustain Supper series supports its award-winning programs