Title: Saving Mr. Banks
Country: USA, UK, Australia
Genre: Biography, Drama, Comedy
Director: John Lee Hancock
Music: Thomas Newman
Cinematography: John Schwartzman
Annie Rose Buckley
First of all, it is an absurd travesty to exclude Emma Thompson in the BEST LEADING ACTRESS nomination list this year by the Academy members, she campaigned rather hard in the awards season, she is a revered two-times winner and the film is exhaustively friendly towards the academy members, considering FINDING NEVERLAND (2004), the story behind another children classic Peter Pan. And most essentially, she is at the top of her game in depicting a quite unlikeable character, the high and mighty spinster P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins books.
Under the direction of a dab hand John Lee Hancock (THE BLIND SIDE 2009), the storyline intercuts between two timelines, in the dawn of 20th century in the inland Australia, the tale of woe of Ms. Tavers’ childhood and in the 60s, when she flies to Hollywood to negotiate with Walt Disney (Hanks) about the adaptation of her worldly-famous creation on celluloid. The two main deal-breaking stipulations for Ms. Tavers are, the picture must not feature any music numbers, and absolutely no animation is required, which are two leading signatures of Disney’s trademarks, and both will be compromised if you have seen the crowd-pleasing and massively successful MARY POPPINS (1964).
The 1960s bifurcation engages in a comical contradiction between Travers’ British uppityness and the business-centred civilities of Disney and his staff, which amusingly juggles with our empathy and distaste of her, Thompson commits herself integrally with her pitch-perfect acrimony and balances it with a tint of human nature through her friendship with her limousine chauffeur Ralph (a down-to-earth Giamatti). And eventually, her hostility and aversion towards the money-seeking deal will thaw by Disney’s self-referencing confession of the hardship in his boyhood. But in reality, Travers never sold off other copyrights of her works anymore after this instance, which denotes the tearjerking scenes where she is watching the finished film during its Hollywood fanfare premier is more of a reflection and vent on her own troubled memory rather than an acknowledgement to the picture itself.
Equally well done is the childhood narrative, Farrell plays Travers Goff, and we come to realize Ms. Tavers coins her nom de plume after her father, a man dreams of fantasies and lives in fairytales, whom she nurtures a very close affection to, but life is rough, he is a chronic dipsomaniac, an irresponsible bank manager and her family is the prototype of Banks family in the book, Farrell shines with devoted warmth and poignant endearment during his sequences with the newcomer Annie Rose Buckley, who plays the young author with a nickname Ginty, it has been one of his rare compelling performances to date. Ruth Wilson implodes with a suicidal tendency as her mother, and Rachel Griffiths as Aunt Ellie is criminally underused simply because she is THE real Mary Poppins and she is only allowed a 5-minutes part for her presence.
Hardly a hagiography, neither for Travers nor for Disney, whose subtle snootiness is brilliantly laid bare in the premier segment, when there is no need to kiss her ass, a polite cold-shoulder is all she deserves. So behind every tartar, there is a cause, the film is a success in not patronising its audience with sugarcoating or spoon-feeding, yet in a tactful manner, it arouses empathy from within, last but not the least, it is also a treat to your ears, owing to Thomas Newman’s masterful score saturated through and through.