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Friday, December 20, 2013

GeekRex Quick Take: Saving Mr. Banks

The Buzz: While Director John Lee Hancock creates sentimental favorites that occasionally land as populist awards nominees (The Blind Side), the press's discussions of Saving Mr. Banks have centered on Emma Thompson's portrayal of PL Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins, and her dealings with Walt Disney and Co. in their attempt to adapt her book to the screen. Thompson is surely in the running for a Best Actress nomination, particularly given a weaker field this year in that category.

What's great about this movie: Thompson's performance is fabulous, bringing a terrific sense of nuance and sympathy to a character that could easily be swept up into histrionics. Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, though the role is a bit slighter than the marketing campaign would have you believe, is also very good. He doesn't go too far outside of his comfort zone (ala his incredible work in Captain Phillips) but the heart is definitely there. The central narrative, of the push and pull between Travers and Disney, is also quite effective, in a very saccharine way. The tone is light, but there is suitable emotional impact due to the strength of the acting mostly throughout; having a number of strong supporting performances from Jason Schwartzman and Paul Giamatti are a big help to this end. The score is also quite rousing, as Thomas Newman incorporates much of the great work of the Sherman Brothers from the film adaptation of Poppins.

What's not-so-great about this movie: The biggest flaw in the approach taken by Hancock and screenwriters Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith is the flashback narrative that takes up a third of the film's running time. Between the delightful "writer's room" scenes we're forced to endure scenes of Travers' childhood in Australia, and the failings of her alcoholic father played by Colin Farrell. While this plot mechanism is meant to evoke greater sympathy for Travers resistance to losing control of her creation, they drag terribly and echo some of the worst "pre-destined" elements of the biopic genre. Colin Farrell giving a fairly melodramatic performance doesn't help these beleaguered segments either. It's also a little difficult to separate the fact that this story involving Walt Disney is being told by his own company and all the bias that involves, but for those seeking simple entertainment, that is easy to bypass.

Final Verdict: With the limited choice of quality family entertainment coming this Christmas, Saving Mr. Banks is likely the best option to take your Mom (and maybe your Dad) to. It's sappy and sentimental, but the strong performances make it worth seeing. The aforementioned crowd looking for this kind of film should probably catch it in theaters next week after commencing holiday feasts, but all others are safe to wait for Netflix/Redbox as a trio of other much more essential films are opening at the same time.
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