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Saving Mr. Banks Movie Review

saving-mr-banks-tom-hanks-emma-thompsonI was eleven when Mary Poppins premiered. We were living in Cleveland, Ohio, the eighth of fifteen places we’d live by the time I graduated high school. My dad was on the fast track in corporate America, traveling all week and showing up now and then to live larger than life at the dinner table or to ask about homework. We didn’t all go on many family outings together. We were an American family in the sixties. Our trip to see Mary Poppins is the only outing I remember that was centered on us, three girls between the ages of thirteen and seven. Movies back then were shown in large theaters, and we drove into Cleveland proper to see it, all of us in the car. On the way home we sang what we could remember of the songs, and we were so excited about the fabulous day we’d had. Now, fifty years later, three months to the day since my dad died, I sat in the theater sobbing through Saving Mr. Banks realizing that we all have untold stories, two faces of ourselves, and a point of view that differs from those of others sitting next to us in the very same row of a dark movie theater. I would give a lot to ask my dad what he was thinking when he watched Mary Poppins oh so long ago, and what he thought of the character of Mr. Banks, whom he must have seen as a mirror of the opposite of his own self. But my dad wasn’t someone who dwelled on negatives, and that is a lesson I can clearly see as his greatest gift to me now that he is gone. It’s so much harder to see those things in the light of day with the living shadow in front of us, and the histories we all share blocking the bigger picture. So we go to movies like Saving Mr. Banks and insert our own stories into the movie’s plot; and we learn, we mourn, and we celebrate. I did all three while watching this movie.

Saving Mr. Banks is a Buddhist lesson in forgiveness, in seeing glasses half full, and in recognizing that we all have things we need to let go, and that it will serve us well to do just that. Let the past go and focus on the good that it brings your future. It’s laid out in a wonderful story, with actors who are recognized as the best in their field, all of whom left their egos at the door and played these parts simply; and the details set before us make the lesson they are teaching easy to understand.

Saving Mr. Banks could save us all. Every character in the movie has two polarizing selves, as do we all. And the nuance with which Director John Lee Hancock points them out is genius. Walt, played by the over-exposed Tom Hanks (Seriously, how can the same person save Mr. Banks and Private Ryan?), is the consummate business tycoon, but he had a soul that enabled him to see something other than author Pamela Travers’ objections to doing her Mary Poppins stories as a movie at all. When he pulls out pre-signed pictures of himself to give out to autograph seekers, you get that he has an ego the size of Missouri. And when he stands at the entrance to Disneyland and holds out his hands to welcome Mary Poppins’ creator, you know he cares so very, very much. Mrs. Travers puts up barriers the size of the Great Wall of China for Walt to break down, but in the moment when she’s at the bar and tries to start a conversation with the bartender, only to find that he has already left her for another patron down the counter, you see her vulnerability, her loneliness, and her ineptitude at simple conversation. And when her driver, humbly played by the Paul Giamatti (who clearly took it on the chin by accepting this role), holds up her book and says he’s reading it but he’s a slow reader, you want to tell him it’s okay to be a slow reader; that what really matters is to keep reading. Oh my, need I go on?

My dad played baseball; he pitched for Harvard University and in the minors. He was offered a contract for the Boston Braves and turned it down to finish college. I asked him a few months before he died if his dad had taught him to pitch.

“No. And my dad never saw me pitch.”

“Why Dad? You all lived in Boston. Didn’t he come to Harvard to see you play?”

“No, he never did.”

“Did that hurt your feelings?”

“Not at all. My dad and I had lots of time to talk when I drove him to Canada. I never felt he wasn’t there for me. He just never came to see me pitch.”

And I realized in that moment that my dad had learned the lesson of Mary Poppins, Mr. Banks, and Walt Disney very early in his life. We have a choice in life. We can look at what those we love brought to our lives, or what they have taken away due to their own issues. It’s a choice. My dad made his choice very young. It served him well, and I am glad to have found that out, however late in my own life. Take your children to this movie and talk about the choices we all make in judging others. I intend to watch Mary Poppins again and see if I can find anything else in it—although I agree with Mrs. Travers, who said that Dick Van Dyke is no Olivier or Burton.

So here’s to making up words like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Here’s to smelling pears. Here’s to riding a merry-go-round. And here’s to saving ourselves in the spirit of Mr. Banks. And, here’s to a movie for my generation to go down Memory Lane. Nothing wrong with memories. It’s how you play them.

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