Emma Thompson is unflinchingly, Saving Mr. Banks.
This film is a bit of an oddity, an oddity that seems to be fairly popular. A movie about movies, or the people that make them. In most cases an interesting individual or story is expanded and enhanced to become entertaining. The story is fascinating, and the performance is breathtaking. While the origin of Mary Poppins is heartbreaking, especially for a father. I walked away with a new appreciation for Traver’s original work, and Disney’s adaptation.
The story revolves around Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his negotiations with P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) over the film rights for Mary Poppins. However Travers has no intention of seeing her most precious creation bastardized, and as a last attempt to protect Mary Poppins she requires full approval of the script before she signs. For two weeks in 1961 Travers tortures writer Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), and composers/lyricists Richard M. Sherman (Jason Schwartzman), and Robert B. Sherman (B. J. Novak), with very specific script requirements. While picking through she script details Travers is also reflecting on the traumatic childhood that influenced her writing. Specifically she reflects on her father Travers Robert Goff (Colin Farrell), an alcoholic and depressed banker who served as inspiration for the character Mr. Banks.
Both stories intertwine to form a complete tapestry which is greater than it’s parts. Alone, both stories would be interesting and entertaining. Together, they form a smart and heart wrenchingly compelling narrative. That narrative would collapse under it’s own weight if it were not carried by Emma Thompson, and her mesmerizing performance. Thompson, who performed her role as if she were the only adult in whichever room she happens to inhabit, took such care in becoming P.L. Travers she was scarcely recognizable. I can’t think of a higher compliment for an actor than to say I forgot I was watching an actor I have seen a thousand times in a thousand roles.
Tom Hanks was as good a Walt Disney as anyone could ask. Like the man himself I was constantly torn between loving him, and being perpetually annoyed with him. Hanks was, for once (maybe twice) not the center of attention. He wasn’t even the most entertaining person on screen, by far. That is unusual, Tom Hanks is one of the few actors that can upstage children and animals. The real hidden treasure in this movie, is Paul Giamatti who played Ralph Traver’s chauffeur. Giamatti was only on screen a fraction of the total running time, but always with Thompson. The chemistry between these two was almost tangible, there was almost a third story between these two. Unfortunately the time they spend together is minimal, but it seems to be the most important relationship in the film (aside from Travers and her father). Really, I could watch those two driving around, making small talk, for hours. Another marvelously heartbreaking moment of this film comes at the hands of Colin Farrell. I can’t adequately describe the moment without spoiling the moment for anyone that hasn’t seen it. I assure you, anyone that has felt the slightest sting of failure as a father may very well crumple.
Saving Mr. Banks is a extraordinary film. Expect to see awards lined up for this one. 8.5 out of 10.