Today’s Cinema Society screening was one of the few this season I wasn’t looking forward to. Judging by the trailer to the film and the subject matter (I’ve never been a “Mary Poppins” fan), I figured it would be hokey, corny, saccharine, just not my thing.
Surprise. I liked it. It charmed me in spite of my initial cynicism, in part because of the performance of the great Emma Thompson, who stars as P.L. Travers, the Poppins author who famously resisted Walt Disney’s entreaties to make a movie – a musical, no less – of her beloved character. Tom Hanks is a wonderful Disney – a crafty businessman who loves to make everybody happy. He promised his daughters he would bring their favorite nanny to the big screen and spent 20 years trying to get Travers to let him option the rights. But when he brings her to L.A. for two weeks hoping to court her and convince her to go along with the deal, he discovers just how difficult she is. And during her stay, we come to understand why she’s so angry through flashbacks to her childhood in Australia with her dreamer, alcoholic father (a very good Colin Farrell).
The film’s director, John Lee Hancock, who directed Sandra Bullock to Oscar gold in “The Blind Side,” knows how to showcase strong, difficult women with a soft center, and he does it again here. Yes, it’s schmaltzy and yes, the script takes liberties with the real story of Travers and Disney, but it all works somehow and turns out to be holiday fare for the whole family.