Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks review

I'm guilty.  I AM GUILTY!  I walked into Saving Mr. Banks with unrealistic expectations.  But is it my fault?  Is it the mainstream media's fault?  Is it the blogosphere's fault?  Maybe all of the above are responsible for me expecting so much more out of this film.  Saving Mr. Banks is of course the story of a story.  Don't follow?  Well it's simple really.  Sometimes the story of how a film gets made, is just as interesting as the film itself.  Films like Finding Neverland give us the background of artists, and their inspiration for their popular works of art.  Saving Mr. Banks tells us the story how the film, Mary Poppins, was brought to life by Walt Disney.  Let's go!

What I liked about the film
The Acting
I have sort of spoiled what I thought of the film in the introduction, but that doesn't mean I disliked every aspect of the film.  The acting in the film is EXACTLY what I was hoping it would be.  Emma Thompson is spectacular.  She plays the author of the Mary Poppins books, P.L. Travers.  She is a very stern, conservative woman who is having the hardest time giving up the rights to Mary Poppins, so Walt Disney can make a film out of it.  The film moves along two concurrent timelines.  The creation of the Mary Poppins film, as well as flashbacks into Travers' upbringing and her relationship with her father.  Thompson steals this show.  She makes us want to shake the stubbornness out of the character at the beginning of the film.  We never quite 'hate' the character, we're just as frustrated with her as the rest of the supporting characters.  Then, something magical happens, we sympathize with the character by the end of the film.  We care about her, want her to move on with her life, and want her to be happy.  Loved this performance!

Not to be outdone by Thompson, is Tom Hanks in really a perfect role for the actor.  He plays the ever charming Walt Disney.  I say it was a perfect role because Hanks seems to have that intangible goodness to him, that I feel Walt Disney had about him before he passed away.  He's likable and has just as interesting a back story as Travers does in the film.  I will say this, it was hard to look at the man on the screen as Walt Disney, rather than Hanks PLAYING Walt Disney.  Still a great piece of acting on his part.

There are a few supporting roles that I'd like to point out as well.  Colin Farrell plays Emma Thompson's father in the flashback sequences.  He is terrific!  He is a man struggling with alcoholism, while doing his best to keep his family together.  There was something humbling about knowing Farrell had his own issues with alcohol, and was able to really bring some realism to the film.  Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman are all employed by Walt Disney.  They play various characters put in place to make sure the movie is made without a hitch.  They all do a fine job, but Giamatti has some really wonderful scenes with Thompson that I absolutely loved.

The Nostalgia
Mary Poppins actress Julie Andres, Walt Disney, P.L. Travers
The movie takes place in the early part of the 1960's, and I loved what the filmmakers did to take us to that era.  Production Designer Michael Corenblith and Costume Designer Daniel Orlandi took us to Southern California in the 60's.  It was beautiful; especially seeing Disneyland mocked up to look like it did 50 years ago.  Awesome.

What I didn't like about the film:
The Pacing/Editing
My main problem with this film is it's storytelling, pacing and editing.  For example; we are watching the height of an emotionally draining scene involving a young P.L. Travers and her mother in a lake.  Then SNAP, we switch back to the 1960's during the making of Mary Poppins.  There is no time to really absorb what we just saw, considering the extremely sensitive subject matter, before it is gone off-screen.  An impromptu visit by Walt Disney to P.L. Travers home offers one of the best scenes in the movie... only to have it abruptly end with no rhyme or reason to the cut.  Call it picky, but it took me out of the movie.  I was left asking myself 'why did the filmmakers do that?', instead of letting the movie really take me in.

A great example of a film that handles flashbacks perfect is, Slumdog Millionaire.  Similar to Saving Mr. Banks, it told two concurrent stories.  But with 'Millionaire', the cuts made sense, and the flashbacks explained the events of the present.  Flashbacks are often viewed as a lazy ploy by a screenwriter to tell a great story.  I disagree, I think if they're done correctly, they're a powerful tool.  I was just disappointed in way they were executed in this film.

What Story Are You Trying To Tell?
I saw the movie less than 48 hours ago and can barely remember anything about it.  I know I loved the performances by the two lead actors.  I know I was drawn into the period of time the story took place, but nothing else really stuck.  I am actually a fan of the director, John Lee Hancock.  And there are a handful of scenes I could probably recite to you right now from his previous films like The Rookie and The Blind Side.  But there's not much that happens in this movie.  There is scene after scene after scene of P.L. Travers turning down one idea after the other that is brought forth by the Disney staff.  I just don't see any value in re-watching this film, and that's too bad.  I'll explain in more detail in a minute, but are we telling the story of how Mary Poppins was made; or are we telling the story of P.L. Travers' upbringing?  Of course her upbringing leads to her unwillingness to let go of the character, but WHERE IS MARY POPPINS?  The real life inspiration is only on-screen for a few minutes.  We don't get to see the inspiration interact with the young Travers very much at all.  And if we don't see them interact much, how can we begin to understand why the older Travers is so emotionally attached to this character?  Don't worry, I didn't give anything away that trailers didn't already.

The Verdict:
I Wanted So Much More Than Charming
Farrell, Novak, Richard Sherman, Thompson, Hanks, Whitford
I wanted Saving Mr. Banks to be an Oscar-worthy film, with an amazing performances.  I wanted it to be a great story about forgiveness, and having the will to move forward with your life.  I wanted it to be so much more than just a 'charming' movie.  I think I got some of what I wanted.  Emma Thompson will hopefully be recognized by the Academy for her heartbreaking performance.  Tom Hanks gives yet another likable performance.  But the film?  The film ultimately fell flat for me.  It felt repetitive and wasn't quite sure which story it really wanted to tell; the making of Mary Poppins, or P.L. Travers' upbringing.  And one thing I've learned from watching literally hundreds of hours worth of filmmaker interviews is, if you don't know what story you're trying to tell is, your film will show it.  And that's what I believe happened here.  I realize I am in the minority disliking the film, but we're just going to have to AtD on this one.

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