Director: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak, Bradley Whitford, Ruth Wilson and Kathy Baker
Music: Thomas Newman
The moment a voice starts with the lines—Winds in the East, mist coming in, like something is brewing, about to begin – you know this motion picture about the making of a film is not your regular Joe American film. For starters, this joint production – British, American and Australian — is about an American filmmaker making a film called Mary Poppins, based on a book by an Australian living in England. Now, of course, the film is in the banks of legendary cinema. Saving Mr. Banks is one of the rare Hollywood films to come to Indian shores which is not a franchisee, not made by a biggie or starring one and has not had PR machinery going bonkers with ore-release marketing. The film works on quite a few levels, despite a few simple drawbacks.
Set in 1961, Pamela Travers (Emma Thompson), the creator of Mary Poppins, is a typically stiff upper-lipped English woman whose books have not been selling. The only way to save things, is by selling the rights of Mary Poppins to Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) who promised his daughter 20 years ago to make it into a movie. She feels, it might be made into some vulgar musical where Mary will be prancing around. She also does not think much of Disney’s accomplishments and finally agrees to come to Los Angeles to work on the script, but on her conditions. While she dislikes much of the things she sees, her fellow collaborators, screen-writer Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and the music composers Sherman Brothers Richard (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert or Bob (B. J. Novak), are on their toes, thanks to her constant corrections and disdain at their work. We keep going into her flashback in Australia where Pamela or Helen Goff as her actual name is, lives with her banker father Travers Goff (Colin Farrell), mother Amy (Ruth Wilson) and her younger sisters. Travers means everything to Helen or Ginty as he lovingly calls her and together, they are always in their imaginary world. Although successful in bringing forth her creative mind, he is an utter failure at his work. Things, however, go spiralling down, thanks to his drinking. Ginty sees her world dissolving. The film is a narration of how Mrs. Travers finally sees Mary Poppins become a Disney classic and achieve a personal closure.
Saving Mr. Banks is not just about the making of a classic and the writer’s trials to see her work the way she sees it. It is also about how human emotions can be connected to the simplest things which we otherwise dismiss. Emotions are
connected to everything, right from whether Mr. Banks should have a moustache to the colour red and even Pamela’s dislike for pears. The story is very American (with emotional baggage that is) but still works for those tired of seeing jingoistic drama from hills of Hollywood. The credit goes to writers Kelly Marchel and Sue Smith.
It is vital that you follow the movie at its pace or will fail to understand its subtle beauties. While some might complain about the slow pace, it works in an interesting fashion here. It is a credit to director John Lee Hancock for bringing the required dignity needed for a work of this kind. What will equally give you delight is the cinematography by John Schwartzman. The close-ups, the sweeping shots showcasing the rugged Australian outback and myriad moods of the film are caught well. The very bankable Tom Hanks captures the legendary filmmaker and animation giant Walt Disney well, complete with his mid-western accent. Hank’s Disney is the affable American who loves his work (and money). He finds a fitting partner in Emma Thompson whose Pamela Travers is strict, set in the ways, dislikes quite a lot of things (mostly American) and has trouble bringing her guard down. You love to hate her at the beginning but still fall for her. Paul Giamatti as Traver’s chauffeur Ralph pitches in a touching and restrained performance as someone troubled but with optimism galore. Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak as the musical Sherman brothers, Bradley Whitford as ‘co-writer’ DaGradi and a few others account for the rest of the good word in the acting department.
It is a pity that films like Saving Mr. Banks do not get the necessary push to reach the audience. Because, it is very rare for films these days to be called heart-warming. Yes, that’s the word. Spend your well-earned money on this film rather than on films which run solely on the name of an actor.
Photo Credits: readingagency.org.uk and www.ew.com