Saving Mr. Banks (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, PG-13)

Saving-Mr.-Banks 75The only thing the movie was able to do for me was make me not want to watch Mary Poppins anytime soon, which is a shame, as I do like Mary Poppins.

Saving-Mr 500

As much as I love movies, I have an awful lot of pet peeves regarding them. I hate it when movies are conspicuously made to attract Oscar attention. I hate it when movies appear to be commercials for other things. Of course I hate it when movies are directed poorly, written poorly, etc. I hate it when movies have a lot of talent behind them and therefore a lot of potential, but fail to live up to it. I hate pap. Saving Mr. Banks embodies all of the above problems. I hated it.

You probably already know that Saving Mr. Banks has Tom Hanks playing Walt Disney, who is trying to produce a film adaptation of P.L. Travers’ beloved book, Mary Poppins, circa the early 1960s. Travers, here played by Emma Thompson, is a horribly nasty woman who wants nothing to do with Disney or movies or humanity, but she’s broke and unwilling to write more Mary Poppins novels, so she dangles the possibility of granting Disney rights to the material in front of him while she terrorizes Uncle Walt and his staff. You already know how the movie ends — the film Mary Poppins gets made, and I don’t think I need to give a spoiler alert to say that Travers warms to both the film version of her novel and at least somewhat to humanity as a whole.

Even so, Saving Mr. Banks seems like a feature-length, long-gestating spleen vent from Disney Studios about how impossible a human being Travers was, which seems distasteful. (They even include an actual audio recording of the real Travers being unpleasant over the closing credits, as if to prove that they aren’t exaggerating her horribleness). This complaining nature of the film makes strange bedfellows with the fact that it also plays like a feature-length commercial for the film Mary Poppins, which was of course re-released on DVD and Blu-ray to coincide with the release of this film. The only thing the movie was able to do for me was make me not want to watch Mary Poppins anytime soon, which is a shame, as I do like Mary Poppins.

It seems unnecessary to complain about Thompson and Hanks, as they’re both actors I like, and they both are okay here. What’s irking is that as of this writing both are seen as major contenders in this year’s Oscar race (Thompson for lead actress, Hanks for supporting actor), and neither is nearly good enough to warrant that. Is Tom Hanks bad in the film? No. But no one would care about this performance if it weren’t the much-beloved Tom Hanks playing the much-beloved Walt Disney; this is straight stunt casting, and not far off from, say, when Kevin Smith cast Alanis Morissette as God in Dogma.

Director John Lee Hancock (last seen directing Sandra Bullock in her Oscar-winning The Blind Side, blech) doesn’t get even halfway-decent performances out of everyone in his cast, though, regardless how talented they are. Here Paul Giamatti plays Ralph, Travers’ driver in L.A., and I’ve never liked him less — he comes off too processed and cloying, which does not suit him. Same goes for Jason Schwartzman as Richard Sherman, one-half of the songwriting Sherman brothers (the other half being The Office’s B.J. Novak as Robert, who comes off marginally better).

But hey, not all of the film is irritating — a whole lot of it is just straight boring. None of it is good. Go see something else instead. | Pete Timmermann

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