Saving Mr. Banks



Saving Mr. Banks
Runtime 120 minutes.
OK for children.

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in “Saving Mr. Banks.”

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in “Saving Mr. Banks.”

About 15 years ago my good Yoga friend, Betty Culiner, and her boyfriend Bill Wyse, invited me to a party celebrating Betty’s career in film. She was a dancer in most of Gene Kelly’s films and assistant choreographer. They had put together a reel of all her appearances. It was a small party, not more than 20 people. Two of the people attending were Robert and Richard Sherman, who wrote the music for Mary Poppins. Betty had a piano and the Shermans played and sang the entire score of the film. This was, obviously, before they became alienated from one another. I was thinking about that party while I sat through this film because the Shermans (B. J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman are Robert and Richard, respectively) play a pivotal role in the film.

Apparently Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) was after P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) for more than two decades to convert her Mary Poppins stories into a movie. This film shows the final leg in Disney’s pursuit as Travers flew to Burbank in 1961 to see what she could work out with Disney.

It is something of an ordeal to sit through this film about such a disputatious character. Much of it takes place in a room on the Disney lot as Travers goes over the script with the Shermans and scenarist Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford). She was adamantly opposed to the idea of a musical. In fact, this film shows that she was adamantly opposed to almost all of Disney’s ideas for the film. She was only there because the books had stopped selling and she needed money. But she wasn’t relinquishing control and this gave Disney a huge headache.

Director John Lee Hancock, whose credits include the fine The Blind Side (2009), and screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith tell the story with innumerable flashbacks (taking up maybe a third of the movie’s runtime; it’s really two movies in one) showing Travers as a young girl, Ginty (a superb Annie Rose Buckley), being brought up in the Australian outback by her beloved but alcoholic father Travers Goff (Colin Farrell in a good performance), a banker, and her beaten down mother, Margaret (Ruth Wilson in an equally good performance). The fictional, titular Mr. Banks (the banker in Mary Poppins) is intended as Travers Goff. The movie shows that P. L. Travers’ Mary Poppins stories were based upon her childhood.

Why they added Paul Giamatti’s character, a totally fictional driver for Travers, is beyond me, unless it was to provide Travers with a sliver of humanity (a very small sliver).

After so many flashbacks it all comes together if you stay until after the end credits (Don’t leave early!). With Hanks sparkling as Walt Disney, this movie, has a superb ending, justifying Thompson’s typically award-quality performance as an extremely unreasonable, irritating woman.

Runtime 120 minutes.
Not for children.

Joaquin Phoenix in “Her.”

Joaquin Phoenix in “Her.”

While writer-director Spike Jonze doesn’t give any credit, this is very close to director Craig Gillespie’s Lars and the Real Girl (2007), in which Ryan Gosling played a guy who fell in love with a plastic girl and took her everywhere with him, everyone accepting this lunacy as normal. This takes the idea of falling in love with something that isn’t human with a big twist from Lars’.

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a wimpy guy coming out of a failed marriage who writes computer love letters for others in the near future Los Angeles. He becomes infatuated with the bodiless voice of his operating system which has artificial intelligence. The voice (never seen, more’s the pity, Scarlett Johansson) becomes a living presence. It’s 180 degrees apart from Lars, in that Gosling’s girl could be seen but obviously couldn’t communicate since she was made out of plastic and air. Theodore’s girl is just the opposite. All she can do is communicate since she has no body.

This could have been an intuitive, sensitive commentary of the meaning of love and its relationship to sex, and how people can get hooked on unseen computer acquaintances. Unfortunately, it’s just a silly, not credible meander down a road to nowhere.

Amy Adams makes a nice appearance as Theodore’s understanding neighbor. Olivia Wilde gives a good, realistic performance as a mercurial blind date of Theodore’s. Rooney Mara is very good as Theodore’s former wife. But the best of all is Johansson as the voice without a body. She is so good that one could understand how Theodore could get hooked, although you have to be pretty stupid to fall in love with a voice you know for a fact is just something that is computer-generated.

There were people in my screening who were laughing. Incredulously, I asked my guest if she thought it was funny and she said no. Maybe they were laughing at and not with.

This failed the watch test dismally. I think I started looking five minutes in, literally counting the seconds. One of the happiest days of this December occurred when my watch told me there was less than an hour to go.

People think that being a film critic is a great job, but a critic is pretty much honor-bound to stay to the end of a film, whereas ordinary mortals can bolt at any time (and even get a refund). Films like this make a critic’s job worse than hard labor on a rock pile.


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