Friday, May 30, 2014

THE BUSINESS OF SAVING MR. BANKS and How It Surprised This Skeptic


(Since this is now available at home, I thought I'd share)

I really had no intention of seeing Saving Mr. Banks, but at the urging of a certain angel faced 8-year-old who is my frequent movie companion, I found myself spending the latter part of Saturday afternoon doing just that. He is a wise one, that one.

 The film is about the author of Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers, as she ventures away from her home in London and heads to Hollywood to finally (possibly) allow Walt Disney to make a movie of her work. There has been chatter in anticipation of the film's release that P. L. Travers is dealt with in the screenplay as overly harsh, while Walt Disney is treated with with white-animated gloves. Honestly, I think that is a bunch of hooey from a cadre of critics who strive to say something salacious so that, upon wide release, their commentary will be poised to go viral via association. Don't fall for it. Mrs. Travers is portrayed through writing (screenplay: Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith) and acting (Emma Thompson) in a manner that is not usually allowed onscreen in modern cinema. She is persnickety, sometimes to the point of rudeness. She is not warm and fuzzy, and barely even polite. She is demanding and controlling, and willing to go to the mat to protect her story and its characters. She is also complicated and stoically emotional and far more layered than any female character, all without any of her lady parts on display, has been drawn in so long that I can't even recall a similar instance off the top of my head. If you are a woman in Hollywood, she already sounds like a hero, no? The movie dances between the 1960s when Mrs. Travers came to the Disney studios after being courted by Walt Disney for 20 years, with his laser beam focus upon making her book, Mary Poppins (never Mary, always Mary Poppins, she directs the Disney team), into the Disney movie-fied Mary Poppins, and the years long before, during Travers' time as a child in Australia. Giving nothing away, I will just share that she had a sad and bumpy childhood, marked by the imaginative and charismatic father who also happened to be an alcoholic who found challenge in keeping the bank jobs that must have bored him to tears...and drink. I'm not going to give away the nuances of the story. I am just going to tell you, go see it. It is smart and insightful, without hitting you square over the head with it all. I walked away with an appreciation for each of the characters as artists who, like a lot of us, had our childhood challenges and turned them into a creative life as an adult. The story here, that is what stays with me. And the tenacity of a woman who believed in her story, and her characters, and was willing to walk away before having them diced and sliced and served up with a side of BS. As a writer, I think that is a beautiful portrayal. Maybe it isn't what we are used to seeing. But that says more about what is wrong with the state of entertainment than it does the accurate portrayal of this talented writer. Walt Disney's track record of being rather sexist can be thoroughly rooted out in another production, another movie where he gets to be the main show. But this wasn't his story. It was about Mrs. Travers and her Mr. Banks, and that was the beauty of it, from beginning to end.

(For a taste of her sass and tenacity in action, here are some taped excerpts of the writing sessions that she demanded be taped so as to not be bamboozled by the Disney machine:

(The cast discussing  the film, Saving Mr. Banks.)

© 2014 Charise M. Studesville 

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