PL Travers was a mean old nag. And they should have let her stay that way. Your Saving Mr. Banks review
The audience at my showing of Saving Mr. Banks clapped at the end of PL Travers’ and Walt Disney’s two-decade fucktussle getting Mary Poppins to the screen. The audience was wrong.
Sure, it was pleasing to see a movie starring a woman with wrinkles, and being a sour bitch at that. But Disney couldn’t just let Emma Thompson be a miserable old hag in peace. She had to have a reason for hating everyone and everything. And that reason had to be her daddy issues, shot in the amber hues of a fine whiskey, and Flashbacks of Alky Aussies Past. She had to sort of be borderline insane, as evidenced by her psychotic, homicidal abuse of a fruit basket that never harmed anyone, because only insanity permits a woman to be curmudgeonly. She had to cry naked Emma Thompson tears, in closeup, for minutes on end, in public. She had to let her heart grow three sizes, sort of — maybe just a size and a half — thanks to a mawkish storyline involving Paul Giamatti playing “nice,” which is not a good look for Paul Giamatti.
Did I mention the running time is over two hours? The running time is over two hours.
Emma Thompson is marvelous of course — and wrinkly, hooray! — and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney is very good too, though I assume the All-Loving And Beneficent Disney Corporation, which produced Saving Mr. Banks, must have thought his folksy character was charming instead of rude bully bullshit.
I have no doubt PL Travers was a nightmare for the Disney “folks” to imagineer with. She by all appearances was a terrible snob and a woman who said no for the sheer pleasure of it. But director John Lee Hancock, who wrote The Blind Side so you know he really has a feel for mawk and glurge, is perfectly happy to accept “my dad Handsome Colin Farrell was drunk and died” as the reason instead of the much-more interesting (and less gender-ghetto-izing) fact that, as illuminated in the very wise film Pretty Woman, “[she’s] in trouble; you want [her] company; [she] doesn’t want to sell.” And that is what makes her ornery; her powerlessness and her shame that she is in need.
Much better just to make her irrational — even hysteric? — refusal to say yes to Mr. Disney a relic of the pain caused her by her miserable but magical father, fifty years dead, so that there may be tears and closure and a womanly embrace of allowing her creation to get (from her perspective) fucked.
On the bright side, late in the film, and into their lives, sweeps an aunt (in a surprisingish, delightful cameo) who formed the basis for the no-nonsense governess. She is onscreen for far too short a time — especially since the picture would have been much, much better if it had been even nominally about Mary Poppins instead of Mary Poppins‘ least interesting character, Mr. Banks — but at least the actress’s filmography includes one of the great consensual fuckings of a grown-up lady that has ever been committed to screen.
And I bet PL Travers would have liked that one too.