Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and her struggle to adapt her novel “Mary Poppins” to the big screen with the help of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his production team. As her past haunts her, Travers becomes extremely difficult to deal with and criticizes much of the production.
Driven by solid performances from Thompson and Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks falls apart due to a relatively standard behind-the-scenes story and poor juxtaposition between the flashbacks and present day.
The performances in Saving Mr. Banks carry an otherwise mediocre film. The bulk of the load is put upon Emma Thompson, who does a rather solid job at capturing the complexities of P. L. Travers. There is a good balance of both eccentrics and emotions. Thompson is believable and charismatic in any situation. At times her performance can be a bit much, but she manages to never go overboard and keep the film grounded. The supporting cast is also quite good with Tom Hanks and Colin Ferrell as standouts. Ferrell, who might give the best performance in the film, could get lost due to the prominent two leads but his work in the Flashback sequences as Travers’ father is quite good. Walt Disney is used sparingly, which is a good thing and Hanks does a great job capturing the charm of one of the most famous men in movie history.
The ensemble cast is rounded out with Bradley Whitford, BJ Novak, Jason Schwartzman, Paul Giamatti, Ruth Wilson and more. Each do a good job with the small amount of material they are given and no one seems wasted or underused.
Based on true events but undeniably taking artistic liberty, the film struggles with its narrative that never fully gives us the full story on the troubled production of “Mary Poppins”. The film obviously depicts the problems Travers had with the adaptation, but it still seems its giving us a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. It never dives deep enough into some of the more problematic elements and uses flashbacks to lazily juxtapose many of Travers feelings toward her precious material.
The flashbacks, which on their own are rather strong, are a bit too obvious. Each flashback is conveniently placed to attach to something happening in the present day which distracts from what is actually being told. It leads the audience to an “Ah-Ha!” moment each time, making them feel like an accompaniment instead of part of the main feature. It’s poorly constructed and ends up hurting the film.
Is Saving Mr. Banks opening weekend worthy?
No. The flashbacks on their own are fairly decent but when attached to the fairly standard and sugarcoated main story it equals a mediocre biopic.