Sunday, January 19, 2014

Saving Mr Banks - Or a Course in Daddy Issues

Melbourne has just come out of a four day heatwave, an extreme event where the temperature reached over 40 Celsius for four consecutive days. Bloody awful is about the only way you can describe it, although I was able to count my blessings in that I work in an air conditioned office and my car air conditioning was fixed last week.

By Thursday, the heat was radiating from every surface in the state and the interior of my flat was warmer than the sauna at the gym. Staying out was the only option. Jay, my gym buddy was in the same boat, so we decided, after training with Slap on Thursday night, to go and see a film.

"Saving Mr Banks" was the film of choice. Jay and I are alike in that we both see a lot of films and thankfully we have fairly similar taste.

Both of us were keen to see this one. Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, the back story of the making of Mary Poppins - what more could we want? We both remembered seeing the original film as children - although Jay's old enough to remember it coming out in the cinema, I just remember seeing it on telly. (Disney's "Mary Poppins" came out in 1964)

Walking from the cinema two hours later, both of us agreed that it was just wonderful. A film that you could completely engage with emotionally. You don't get many like it. You think it's going to be one thing - turns out to be something completely different.

From the trailer it looked like it was going to be a fun film. P.L.Travers (Emma Thompson) going head-to-head with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), Travers, apparently an uppity Englishwoman reticent to give up the rights to her beloved Mary Poppins, Walt Disney, using all his charm and cunning to pry the rights away. A great supporting cast, including Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman), Jason Schwartzmann and Rachel Griffiths.

The film flits back and forth from the Disney Studios in the early 1960s to the 1920s and Travers' childhood, which she spent in a small town just South of Toowoomba, Queensland, the beloved daughter of a loving, but troubled man. Colin Farrell is excellent as her father, stole the show as far as I'm concerned.

What flows in the film is a glimpse into the life of a lonely and conflicted woman. Emma Thompson is excellent as the abrasive Travers, who gives everybody around her a hard time. She reminded me of my grandmother in full flight in her later years. She also gets to say all the things that you want to say but wont when you're surrounded by idiots. I'm not surprised that she's was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award.  (then again, there are so many brilliant performances this year - some great women's roles out there.)

Tom Hanks embodies Walt Disney as well. Warm, forgiving, indulgent but lurking underneath a tough businessman. The relationship between Disney and Travers starts off as adversarial but softens over time.

What I wasn't expecting was that the film was about fathers and fathering as much as it was about the back story of Mary Poppins. This was pretty subtle, but the undercurrent helped to carry was is an entertaining film into something more. The scenes with the ten-year-old Travers and her father are poignant, loving and intense.

The original film was on television a few weeks ago. Watching it as an adult, you see a lot more of the bleakness that you're not aware of as a child. The children, left to the nanny as the parents get on with their lives. Mary Poppins, there as a saviour figure, almost Virgin Mary like in the way she is idolised, nearly perfect - she's there but not there: remote, but caring. It's a strange dynamic which you don't think about. Mary Poppins in both exciting and frightening, a person who is entrusted with the children, even though they've never met this woman before. A nanny who lets the children hang out with chimney sweeps. This is a London where the street cleaners are happier than bankers.This is a world where children are seen, not heard then sent off

Mary Poppins gives her children order and structure, but she doesn't give them love or tenderness. Looking at the original film once again, this uncurrent is there like a pimple on your chin.

Jay and I walked out of the film, cheeks stained with tears, some of the last words of Walt Disney ringing in our ears."Storytellers restore order to the world with imagination."

This film is definitely worth a look. Even more worthwhile, dig into the real back story of PL Travers. The truth is stranger and far more fascinating than fiction. This film is an engaging and effecting look into an untold story.

1 comment:

Jane said...

I have to share this with you. In the week my Dad died, by day three of the 40+ degrees I was craving a couple of hours of no thinking so Michael and I decided to sneak off to catch a film. He thought a Disney film would be just what was required. You know what half the movie was about. Fortunately we both saw the funny side of it!