Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks

"Saving Mr. Banks" is almost as square as the trailer makes it look.

Oscar royalty Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks star as P.L. Travers, the Australian author of the Mary Poppins books, and Walt Disney, who brought the exacting and misanthropic Mrs. Travers to Hollywood to persuade her to sell him the movie rights. "Everybody" loves Emma, but even this good shtick - asking a young mother who'd checked her bag so that Thompson could stow hers in the overhead bin, "Will the child be a nuisance?" - wears thin. You can wring some laughs out of her distaste for others, but why exactly do we a give a fig about her?

"The Blind Side" director John Lee Hancock attempts to answer this question with endless flashbacks to her childhood in Oz - as the trailers revealed, Mr. Banks is a stand-in for her own father - but I found these boring beyond belief. Colin Farrell plays her dad as a loving but hopeless drunkard, while Annie Rose Buckley plays her younger self in a performance with all the depth of a headshot. Every time the battle between Pamela and Walt begins to build some comic momentum, one of these damn flashbacks comes along and sucks the energy out of the joint. The connection Disney insistently forges with Travers forms the heart of "Saving Mr. Banks," and there are some winning moments especially toward the end (though in one scene in particular Hanks looks less like Disney than like Leo DiCaprio's father). Paul Giamatti - as the chauffeur assigned to schlep Mrs. Travers around L.A. - aims for a shambling, subservient dignity but conveys only his usual fidgety creepiness.

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