Sunday, June 08, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Saving Mr. Banks (2013) ***½

PG-13, 125 min.
Director: John Lee Hancock
Writers: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith
Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Annie Rose Buckley, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman, Lily Bingham, Kathy Baker, Melanie Paxon, Andy McPhee, Rachel Griffiths, Ronan Vibert

Going in to “Saving Mr. Banks” I expected to see a nice insider drama. Nothing groundbreaking. Nothing offensive. Nothing risky. I suppose it isn’t any of those things, but it was more than I expected.

“Saving Mr. Banks” tells the story of the making of Disney’s “Mary Poppins”. Seeing as Disney also makes this film, it doesn’t really tell a shocking insider expose about how it was terribly handled by the studio. What it does tell is much more specifically the story of the novel’s author P.L. Travers, her reluctance to let Disney make the book into a film and the inspiration for it from her own childhood. The book, although certainly made up fantasy, was very personal to Travers. She was reluctant to allow the studio of singing dwarves and talking animals to handle it. Although without the imagination of Disney’s creative teams, it may have been all but unfilmable.

Central to this production are the performances by Emma Thompson as Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, who wants to make the movie so badly because his daughters loved the book. Hanks is probably the best actor they could’ve found for Disney in evoking the charm and determination that were the key to the man’s success; however, it is Thompson who must carry the movie as the rather ridged author, whose fortunes are at an end since the books sales have dried up.

Flashback sequences also show us scenes from her childhood with Colin Farrell playing her father, Travers Goff, a banker whose struggles with alcohol make for an unstable family life. Despite her father’s demons, she loves him dearly and creates the character of Mr. Banks in “Mary Poppins” as a tribute to him. Getting the writers at Disney to take the character as seriously as she sees him is her greatest wall against the production. What the writers don’t know is that she has yet to sign over the film rights to Disney before they go into pre-production meetings with her.

There is a grand cast of characters here, with an amazing supporting cast to help the audience through Travers’ icy resolve against the production. Character actors like Paul Giamatti as her limo driver and Bradley Whitford as head writer Don DaGradi keep levity in the air to balance the moody Travers. Her childhood backstory greatly supports the main storyline of her resistance to the production and fills out her character to make this shrewish woman we meet more complete. I was surprised at the depth of character and meaning to be found in this simple story, which elevates it beyond your typical behind the scenes Hollywood tale. 

No comments: