Friday, December 21, 2018

there's nothing about mary

"Mary Poppins Returns."

Exactly where do I start? Well, the first word that came to mind as I trudged my way through the film was "joyless." I leaned towards my wife about a half hour into the movie and whispered, "'This is utterly joyless."

Which is odd, given that it's a big, booming movie musical brimming with overstaged songs about positivity. But it's so aggressively entertaining that the joy that it's intent on sharing is ultimately exhausting. And soulless. (The New York Times' Mahohla Dargis came up with another -less to describe it in her review: "A largely charmless venture," she wrote.)

The film, of course, is a fifty-years-plus sequel to Disney's 1964 movie whose status as "iconic" and "classic" never made much sense to me. Its only memorable element is the remarkable Sherman Bros. song score.

Frankly, the appeal of the character of Mary Poppins has always evaded me. Mary is obnoxious, self-satisfied and rude - and, yes, charmless - even as played by the twinkly Julie Andrews back in '64. She's probably the least qualified nanny to teach life lessons to innocent minds.

Andrews actually won an Oscar as Best Actress for her performance, an achievement that had less to do with her portrayal than with Hollywood's weird, misguided way of punishing Audrey Hepburn for assuming Andrews' original stage role in the film version of "My Fair Lady." The two films were released the same year, and both Hepburn and "My Fair Lady" are arguably superior to Andrews and "Mary Poppins." There, I said it!

The makers of the sequel basically trace over the original movie in an attempt to replicate its musical magic. Each song here is inspired by one from the original. Given their newness, it's difficult - and unfair - to judge the sequel's songs against ones that we've heard over and over and over again for the past five decades. The new songs certainly support the plot, get the job done and may even prove to be memorable but too many of them are protracted and garish in a misguided attempt to be "dazzling."

Again, the words joyless, exhausting and aggressive come to mind.

Talented Emily Blunt, who has been a vivid presence on screen since she caught the attention of critics in the 2004 British drama, "My Summer of Love," is something of a blank as Mary Poppins, not only because she's essentially miscast here but also because, for some bizarre reason, the character has been written to be on the periphery of the plot. She's more of an observer than the film's leading character. Consequently, much more memorable are Ben Whishaw and Emily Moritmer, who play the grown siblings Michael and Jane Banks, around whom the plot revolves.

Mortimer, in fact, is so light and naturally engaging here that it becomes apparent (to me, at least) that Disney cast the wrong Emily as Mary.

Note in Passing: I've a quick question: Exactly for whom was this movie made? Ostensibly, it's a family film geared towards children. Pre-schoolers might like it but older kids today may be too sophisticated and jaded to buy into its retro (read: corny) quality. There was only one child - a little girl - at the screening I attended and she didn't make it through the film's overlong two-hour-and-10-minute running time. The other dozen or so people in the audience (aside from one other guy) were middle-aged women in groups of two or three - women apparently with fond memories of the original film. They're the real audience for "Mary Poppins Returns."

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 ~the umbrella has seen better days


mike schlesinger said...

Well, with all due respect, I couldn't disagree with you more. It was like a fluffy cloud had manifested itself as a movie. I was delighted from start to finish, and was impressed by how much they made it feel like a picture made 50 years ago. Blunt played Mary a little tarter than Andrews, but of course the Mary of the novels was rather meaner. The production design was magnificent, the ace supporting cast was wonderful--is there anything Meryl Streep can't do?--and when it was over I was ready to see it again. My only real complaint was the diversity casting of a Black actor as one of the bank executives. (In 1935 England, still very much a colonialist nation? Gimme a break.) I'm genuinely sorry it didn't work for you, but I frickin' adored it.

joe baltake said...

Hey, Mike- I really expected to adore the film. I've been in a bad mood for two years now and was eagerly anticipating it as a much-needed tonic. But the forced fun of the movie was just a tad too manufactured for me to overlook. That said, I understand your point on the film's casting diversity. I saw a "rainbow production" of "The Music Man" several years back and the role of the Mayor's wife was played by an African-American woman. She was excellent - really very funny - but it was still disconcerting. Over the years, I've adjusted my thinking and expectations and have come to appreciate and admire the new casting diversity. One has to be color blind and suspend disbelief to enjoy some really creative performances. As a result, I had no issue with the young black banking executive in "Mary Poppins Returns" or the bank owner's secretary in the movie. -J

Walt said...

Ahh, you're just a curmudgeon for thinking it's joyless....Where's the inner kid in you? You're letting your actual age creep up on you, Joe Baltake.

Kiki said...

It could have been worse. You could have the the $50 per ticket (40 pounds) at the new, glamourized Odeon there in London's Leicester Square. That's what the tickets are going for there. k.

MGoetzeler said...

I never liked the original. And as an adult I’ve tried to watch it a couple of times. Nope, still not liking it. Although I did like my Fair Lady. 😉

Vienna said...

Boy, you’ve put a damper on my antipated visit to the film, but, to be honest, i’m not expecting to be thrilled by it. It does sound as if they have tried to make it as similar as possible to the original. And I do agree that My Fair Lady was far superior to the original Poppins, though Julie deserved, like Rex Harrison, to get the film version.

joe baltake said...

Vienna- I've never been able to figure out Rex Harrison's appeal, given that he always seemed to have a nasty edge in whatever part he played. Frankly, I would have preferred Jack Warner's original casting idea for Henry Higgins - Cary Grant. As for Hepburn, she's perfect in the film, although it's disconcerting that whenever she opens her mouth to sing, the soulless voice of Marni Nixon comes out of it. -J

Vienna said...

Here we go again, Joe! We’ll have to agree to disagree about Harrison, Cary Grant and Marni Nixon! As much as I love Cary, I just can’t imagine him as Higgins.
Happy Xmas🎉

joe baltake said...

Hi, Vienna. Hope the holidays are treating you well. Yes, sometimes great minds don't think alike. We definitely are not of the same mind when it comes to movie musicals (my favorite genre, hands-down). I'm much less of a purist than you are. As for Ms. Nixon, don't get me started. I've always considered her the bane of movie musicals. With the exception of Deborah Kerr (whose voice she approximated perfectly in "The King and I"), she had the dubious habit of trashing the actresses for which she ghost-sang. Poor form. Very poor form. And she routinely ignored the word "ghost" which was supposedly part of her contract. Some kind of weird star complex. -J

dree said...

I was interested in reading your post because I too was disappointed (as a regular moviegoer, not a critic) in Poppins. I liked everyone in it, just kind of a dull story.