WOOING P. L. TRAVERS is more like it. This somewhat over-celebrated bio-pic about a somewhat over-celebrated musical only delivers on its promise at the very end when our stubborn, disagreeable author unexpectedly finds herself emotionally overwhelmed at the Hollywood Premiere of her own MARY POPPINS, a film not much to her liking. Even here, after a film’s worth of flip-flop flashbacks to Travers’ Australian youth, director John Lee Hancock needlessly underscores the author’s thoughts with specific mini-flashbacks to the tough Aussie childhood Travers spent decades creatively mining and distancing herself from. And this lack of trust in letting an audience make connections on their own is largely the style he holds to all thru the pic, leading us by the nose much like one of those second-rate Disney pics from the period covered. (Note a poster for BABES IN TOYLAND/’61 standing as silent warning in the background when Travers first arrives at the Disney Studio campus.) Tom Hanks glad-hands his way around the film’s whitewashed Disney, but Bradley Whitford does standout work as an increasingly desperate film producer. Oddly, the period recreations of early ‘60s California and turn-of-the-last-century Australia come off as charmless and unconvincing. A problem equally true of the little girl who plays young Travers in the flashbacks; though a clean-shaven Colin Farrell as her father does his best work in years. (Sans stubble, and with a touch of age creeping up around the eyes, he gains empathy as well as facial mobility.) Still, without Emma Thompson as POPPIN’s nearly impossible author, the film would be as pointless as MARY POPPINS/’64 without the pungent note of vinegar Julie Andrews dosed on her practically, perfect nanny.
DOUBLE-BILL: Might as well see how old MARY POPPINS is holding up in its 2014 digital restoration. (Maybe one of these clean-up jobs will let Dick Van Dyke redub his infamous Cockney accent.)