March 28, 2014

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell

This is the movie that should have been...

For one thing, it should have had a different title. I don't know if there were some legal issues with using the words "Mary Poppins" in the title or something, but I thought Saving Mr. Banks was too...well, subtle. Now, usually I'm not in favor of "dumbing down" things for the general public, but when the public has so little to go off of when deciding whether or not to watch a movie, picking a title that more obviously fit the theme of the movie may have been the way to go here. Subtlety is not your friend when dealing with the masses. This is why a movie as laughably horrible as White House Down made nearly the same amount at the box office - because people knew what to expect from it. (And because apparently they aren't averse to real acting or any semblance of a plot getting in the way of watching stuff getting blown up on screen.)

It should have been more well known, but was awkwardly released on Christmas Day. Like a version of comedies that aren't funny, this was marketed as a heartwarming family movie - again, released on Christmas Day, no less. Except that if I had taken my family to the theater to watch this on Christmas, we'd all be trudging home to curl up alone in dark, cold beds and cry ourselves to sleep.

This might be my personal crusade against the "dramedy," but how does one market this genre? Most tend to focus on the funnier parts of the movie, falsely luring viewers under the pretense that it is a comedy when in fact, most "dramedies" tend to be rather serious movies with just a few funny moments sprinkled in.  So really, maybe we should stop pretending it's an entire genre unto itself. Or at the very least, come up with a better word for it than "dramedy."

This movie suffered from the "dramedy" marketing problem, where the previews made it look like some sort of light-hearted, heartwarming comedy of sorts, filled with music and dancing, instead of the mostly serious and rather sad movie it really was that just happened to have some music and dancing mixed in with it. Perhaps it's because I connected more deeply with the back story of Emma Thompson's childhood and her relationship with her father than the supposed *actual* point of the movie, which was the making of Mary Poppins, but that colored the whole tone of the movie for me. And really, wistful shots like this are bound to make anyone feel sad, if for no other reason than the fact that few of us have memories as awesome as this. If only I had grown up in Australia. Sigh.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the movie. Yes, I know it wasn't a *true* biography, but I figure it's a little like the 2008 Beijing Olympics - you have to expect some subterfuge to achieve that level of showmanship. (Remember the infamous "footprints" fireworks?)

Besides, I am such a biased fan of Disney that I'm apt to enjoy just about anything they put out (with the recent exception of Brave. That was massively disappointing.) Maybe it's unfair to overlook some liberties taken with this script, while skewering a film like Captain Phillips for the exact same reason, but I think it all comes down to expectations. I expect a serious biography and Oscar contender like Captain Phillips to be factually accurate, or to at least change the story in an artistically interesting way like Philomena. Saving Mr. Banks, however, is a bit more like listening to an old grandfather/uncle/name your own beloved relative tell a story - you know it's not the exact truth, but he tells it in such an interesting way and with such enjoyment you hate to disrupt his rose-colored revisionism. And since everyone in the family tacitly understands that this is how this relative operates, no one feels the need to call him out on certain...distortions...

...which apparently, a lot of other movie critics felt the need to do after watching this movie. Again, it's all about expectations. I may be an adult that still believes Disney World is the happiest place on Earth, but I have no illusions about the fact that at the end of the day, Disney is still a corporation - a corporation that is trying to make money and make itself look good. I mean, what do you expect? It's like being shocked that drug companies omit negative results of drug tests that they themselves fund. Except that some members of the public manage to seem equally outraged at both, as if both transgressions are equally ethically questionable.

But yes, it should have been just a tiny bit more accurate. I know it seems like I'm going back on everything I just passionately argued for, but I'm just saying it wouldn't have ruined the movie to have her kids portrayed, or one of the countless facts that were changed or omitted for the final product. I'm all for artistic license, but I agree maybe the screenwriters got a little cut happy. Again, I thought it was a good movie, but bringing in the added element of actual realism could have possibly made it a great movie. Then maybe it would have been nominated for something other than just "Best Original Score." (Oh, and also - just don't call it a biography, eh? Call it "inspired by actual events.")

Final word: A bit more Disneyland, not DisneyWorld, if you know what I'm saying.

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