There will come a time as a cinephile when you realise not all types of movies are for you, regardless of how open-minded you choose to be and how diverse your palette is. And my palette is pretty damn diverse (if I do say so myself). I am just as passionate about 90s Superstar Rajinikanth as I am Star Wars. Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy and The Lord of the Rings inspired me, just as much as Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy. On my proverbial ‘greatest of all time list,’ you will find both Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles.
You will also find Blue Valentine, a melancholic romance starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Let’s not forget Kimi No Na Wa and Spirited Away, the emotionally dense Japanese animes. As I’m typing this, a war ensues in my mind, between an Indian gangster drama and a Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbuster, both vying to be 2018’s best film of the year. I love a lot of films of different genres and languages. What I don’t love is Mary Poppins Returns. Not one bit.
And I know I’m the minority in this. When the embargo lifts and the review floodgates open, I’m sure it’ll receive a bazillion stars and score 700% on Rotten Tomatoes just as the original did. Regarding the original, Bosley Crowther of the New York Times wrote, “I find it irresistible. Plenty of other adults will feel the same way. And, needless to say, so will the kids.”
I get it, trust me I do. Unfortunately, I’m not one of the ‘other adults’ Crowther was talking about, because the original annoyed the heck out of me. In fact, it took me three tries and a whole load of red bull to get through the damn film.
When I spoke to a friend and fellow film junkie about Mary Poppins and the 2018 sequel Mary Poppins Returns (yes, it’s a sequel, not a remake. The Banks children from the original movie are now all grown up and have kids of their own. Michael Banks is about to lose his house and our narrative revolves around preventing that from happening) he wondered if I simply didn’t enjoy musicals. That would be *Donald Trump’s Voice* wrong! La La Land is a cinematic masterpiece.
I also grew up watching plenty of mainstream Indian masalas, most of which are musicals. So maybe it’s this specific kind of musical that bothers me. The kind where characters don’t interact through dialogue but via song and dance. Where musical numbers take up 100 minutes of a film’s 120-minute runtime. I prefer when songs are used as specific mood setters and/or exclamation marks. In Mary Poppins Returns there’s a song every two seconds and by the 40-minute mark, I wished that I brought with me a pocket knife so that I could puncture my eardrums.
But here’s the thing. I actually kinda like Les Miserables.
So perhaps more than the hyper-musical nature of the film, I dislike its subject matter and toothless screenplay. Look, I didn’t watch the original Mary Poppins as a kid. I watched it when I was 19, by which I was already introduced to magic and wonder through Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. So, I sat on my ass, watching the so-called classic as an adult, thinking to myself why is this movie ridiculously cheery?
I believe half the charm of watching Mary Poppins Returns is to get hit by the nostalgia train and reminisce about your childhood. And since Mary Poppins wasn’t a part of my childhood, I watched its sequel through an adult prism and none of it made an ounce of sense to me. I’m not talking about the magic, by the way. The magic I can buy. I just can’t wrap my head around the happiness of it all.
WHY IS EVERYONE SO HAPPY? ALL THE TIME.
This is the kind of movie where the conflict is surface level. It’s whimsical from start to finish. Characters smile a lot. It’s like we’re trapped in a sandwich of rainbows and unicorns. The Banks kids are goody two shoes who love doing house chores (are you kidding me?) In The Lord of the Rings the Hobbits, who are basically (kinda) ‘kids’ get stabbed in the chest by Ringwraiths and almost die. Here, the most dangerous moment involves the Banks children getting lost in a dark alley with their magical nanny. But not to worry! A bunch of dancing lamplighters will show them the way home. Of course, they have a big fat smile on their face too. Urgh.
Maybe I’m just a dude with a cold black heart who listens to way too much Detroit Hip Hop and Metallica. But man, was I suffocating under the mountain of merriness and glee. This movie is so not metal. I wished so hard that a character would suffer a papercut at least. Or better yet for a snaky Hitlerian villain to pop up and explicitly murder the kids’ parents using an illegal Unforgivable Curse.
The film is set during the depression era for crying out loud. Why is everyone behaving like they’re the perfect white family whose veins are filled not with blood but sugar? Couldn’t we have a deeper exploration of poverty and loss of life? Sure, occasionally the father, Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) yells at his kids. But the tension only lasts one song long, before everything becomes jolly and dandy again. Yippie dodelido! This film lacks dense characters and emotionally powerful moments.
I truly believe the original is a product of its time. A true gem of the 60s. For many old/older people, it was THE HARRY POTTER of that era, an absorbing fantasy that pushed the boundaries of their imagination. I think this sequel would probably make 30 to 40-year-old parents with newborns tear up and little five-year-olds (who have not been exposed to much 21st-century cinema) gasp in awe. But if you don’t fit into those pockets, I don’t see how you’d find Mary Poppins Returns remotely enjoyable. Or maybe you will. What the heck do I know? This movie has already received a Critics’ Choice Best Picture nomination.
Characters jump into a bathtub which turns into a corny looking ocean of sorts. Who cares? I’ve seen characters dive underwater to rescue loved ones from viscous looking bloodthirsty mermaids. Characters jump into a giant bowl and meet cutesy cartoon characters? Meh. I’ve seen characters tap a brick wall that opens a pathway to a small town that sells potions and wands. Magical cotton candy coloured balloons that lift you into the sky? Please, I’ve witnessed characters fly on Firebolts, trying to escape fire-breathing Hungarian Horntails.
Mary Poppins Returns isn’t a BAD movie. On the contrary, Rob Marshall has put together a well crafted musical, with great production designs and good cinematography. It also has songs with noticeably beautiful choreography — the dance number with the lamplighters on ladders is a standout. And at the centre of it all, is a charismatic lead by the name of Emily Blunt, one of the best actors working today. Her performance in A Quiet Place deserves a nod from The Academy.
Here too, she’s alive in her role. Notice her hilarious but controlled reactions when the Banks children talk about her weight or her age. She wears a stiff upper lip and it’s absolutely charming. Emily Blunt is an International Treasure. This movie just isn’t for me. The best part of Mary Poppins Returns is The Lion King trailer that played before it. Now that’s metal!
* I’ve been reading some of the reviews since the embargo lifted. Looks like it’s not as universally beloved as the original.
Mary Poppins Returns
Emily Blunt is an International Treasure. This movie just isn’t for me.