Movie Review: 'Saving Mr. Banks' (2013)

 "Saving Mr. Banks" is the quasi-biopic of P.L. Travers’ (Emma Thompson) life and Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) battle with her to make the film adaptation of her classic book “Mary Poppins.” As a film, it suffers from a flurry of scattershot attempts to weave a narrative that explains Travers’ frigid behavior.

As Travers’ emotional damage is explored, "Saving Mr. Banks" swings from comedy that is elicited from personality conflicts and then to a wrenching drama, based on the tragedy of alcoholism. The narrative whiplash makes for a queasy ride that does not set sail smoothly. The story splits in such a way that it divides itself into two separate films.

The lack of focus in the adult Travers’ narrative, all of a sudden, focuses on her out-of-the-blue outbursts and then to her attempting to explain them. The reasoning of which is unintelligible. No one directly addresses her behavior and the possibility of irrational mood swings being the cause.

Everyone around her is simply focused on their goal of movie-making or in Travers' case, holding up production. It is for these and other reasons, it seems as though we are not glimpsing into the actual events as they unfolded and instead of the observations/opinions of a third party.

Another issue is the title “Saving Mr. Banks.” Who exactly is “Mr. Banks”? Well, the title supposedly alludes to the father of the children in Mary Poppins’ care, needing saving. The film surmises that Mr. Banks is inspired by Travers’ actual father, and while the two men did work in banking, everything else about them could not be more different.

The fictional Mr. Banks needed to be taught how to lighten up and engage with his children. Travers’ father was the exact opposite, a demonstratively loving, involved father, who approached life in a fun-loving fashion. What Mr. Travers needed saving from was his alcoholism, and the fictional Mr. Banks did not exhibit signs of that struggle. He was simply an aloof capitalist.

Why Travers would write a story in which the father was so cruel and mean, while her father, the one he is supposedly based on, would be such a juxtaposition is beyond confusing. Therefore, this whole angle of the story is a disaster, and it is too central to the theme to get wrong or have poorly articulated.

The highlights are the strong performances of Emma Thompson, Paul Giamatti, and Colin Farrell as a young P.L.’s father in flashbacks. All of them elevate the film’s quality significantly. Giamatti and Farrell bring unprecedented heart to the film, buoying its warmth exponentially. Meanwhile, Thompson finds an emotionalism to Travers that makes her watchable, despite the often thorny antics of her character.

Tom Hanks, on the other hand, is distracting as Walt Disney, not for lack of performance quality necessarily. He simply cannot escape being “Tom Hanks.” Despite his best efforts, Hanks does not disappear under the veneer of the character. Everything, down to the voice of Disney, is all Hanks as Hanks or rather Disney as Tom Hanks.

What this movie was trying to say continues to boggle the mind, and what it is trying to say about these historical people is curious, as well. In the end, the film advertised as a warmhearted comedy of sorts is quite depressing. A gloomy feeling stays long after the credits roll.

With the exception of Mr. Travers, the film does not provoke a deep emotional investment in its characters. Due to its confusing story and distracting nature, it also loses portions of its presently-set sentimentality. Despite this, "Saving Mr. Banks" does leave a lasting impression, so it must do something right. Rating: 6.5/10