Mary Poppins Returns

While we all miss Julie Andrews, Ms. Blunt’s performance pays tribute to her in every scene.

mary poppins returnsThough I have long admitted that I cry easily in various films, I’m going to predict that few of you will have a dry eye as Mary Poppins Returns concludes. Though it starts a bit slowly, it gradually gains an emotional momentum that will likely soften the heart of the most caustic film fan.

The talented Ben Whishaw, who provides the voice of Paddington in this year’s colossally funny Paddington 2, appears as Michael Banks, a recently widowed father of three who faces eviction from his home for failure to pay a loan. While his sister Jane (the always endearing Emily Mortimer) and housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters) try to help him find some bank notes left by his late father that will provide the collateral needed to pay his outstanding debt, his five day window is quickly closing. And then, appearing out the sky holding an old family kite is Mary Poppins, the female version of Superman.

Before going further, let me repeat my observation that I’m growing sick and tired of recognized movie reviewers whose credibility must be questioned. First, A.O. Scott of the New York Times dismissed the wonderful Bohemian RhapsodyBohemian Rhapsody, a film that I just saw a second time, but now his colleague Manohla Dargis rips apart this magnificent film. They did the same thing last year with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, and I can only wish that they spent a little time outside of New York City to try and touch base with the average movie fan. If they did they would see in Mary Poppins Returns a forceful story where music and the choreography match the splendor seen in last years The Greatest Showman, a film that many of these same critics also dismissed.

To begin with, Emily Blunt gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Ms. Poppins, a woman whose magical skills are politely used to help the Banks’ family find a way to overcome grief. Several of her songs are as heartfelt as any you will see on the big screen, particularly the one entitled “The Place Where Lost Things Go” where she helps three young kids find a way to embrace the memory of their deceased mother.

In addition, the great Lin-Manuel Miranda, late of Hamilton fame on Broadway, dominates as expected in his role as Jack, a blue-collar worker who turns on and off street lights in London. He befriends the Baxter family, particularly Jane, and his singing is every bit as powerful as expected. In particular, watch for an incredible scene where his singing and dancing with his fellow street workers proves to be so astonishing as to be beyond description.

Yet the secret that elevates this movie beyond most others are some incredible performances from Meryl Streep, Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansberry. Watch for Meryl Streep as she plays Topsy, an over the top eccentric woman who was sought to use her skill to repair an important vase. Ms. Lansberry, herself over 90, is equally memorable as she plays a balloon seller during the film’s conclusion.

Yet it is Dick Van Dyke, also over 90, who resonates as a former bank president who reappears to save the Baxter family from the clutches of the amoral bank president, a role embraced by Colin Firth. As hard as it is to believe, watch Mr. Van Dyke’s dance scenes, part of which takes place on the top of an office desk. It left you regretting that both Robert Redford (Old Man and the Gun) and Clint Eastwood (The Mule) didn’t come as close as Van Dyke when it comes to embracing the magic of old age.

In the end, I expect that this movie will be a front runner at Oscar time for the best song, special effects, editing and nominations for Ms. Blunt and maybe Mr. Miranda. It would be well-deserved and you simply have to take the time to see this wonderfully entertaining film over the Christmas season.