Since Mary Poppins is one of my all-time favorite movies, and Saving Mr. Banks is a movie about the making of Mary Poppins, I could barely wait for it to come to a theater near me. I thought it would be at least fun to watch.
What I didn’t expect was that every moment of the film would move me as deeply as it did. Seeing the story behind the movie was revelation in so many ways. Never knew before the the author of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers, was such a crankypants. And as the story unfolds, the flashbacks to her childhood tell us why.
Emma Thompson is always wonderful, and in this film, even though she only barely warms up at the end, Thompson makes us feel for her. Tom Hanks is consistently excellent as always, and made me forget that he doesn’t really quite look like Walt Disney. As for Colin Farrell, I predicted he’d go far when I first saw him (in Minority Report) and he has indeed, and done some great work, but his heartbreaking portrayal of Travers Goff, a poetic soul trapped in a banker’s life, is in my view by far his best to date. This was my first time seeing Ruth Wilson and Rachel Griffiths, and I liked both of them. B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman and Bradley Whitford gain our sympathy as the frustrated writing team slogging inch by inch through the muck of Travers’ hatred of the whole idea of the film, as she battled and abused them about every tiny detail and syllable. Paul Giamatti is lovable as the ever-smiling limo driver, unruffled and completely forgiving of her incessant snottiness.
I’ve heard the comments of people who had direct connections to P.L. Travers and, well, not a positive report among them. I have heard they dialed down Travers’ rudeness for the film. However, artists tend to feel everything deeply, without which, some say, one cannot be an artist. And many artists are very difficult to work with because they feel as deeply about their work as they do everything else. As Travers says in the film, Mary Poppins is her baby. She protects it, along with all of the agonizing memories that inspired it, as though it were in fact a living child. I think a lot of artists can relate to that feeling. And I appreciate the film for giving her side of the story as well.
I realize there were a lot of great films to consider for this year’s Academy Awards, and, thankfully, plenty of meaty roles for actresses, something that will hopefully be an ongoing trend in Hollywood. Nonetheless, I totally loved every moment and every performance in Saving Mr. Banks, and I believe it deserved many more nominations.