Mary Poppins Returns

I grew up watching Mary Poppins. She was the magical Nanny we all wanted to waft in on an umbrella and fix our everyday boring lives. Unfortunately that didn’t happen and I was left with just Mary Poppins once or twice a year on TV.

When I heard they were making a sequel to a much beloved film I have to admit I was a bit worried and while Mary Poppins Returns isn’t as bad as I thought it could be, it’s not a patch on the original.

While no specific year is mentioned, apparently the film is set in the mid-1930s, around 25 years after the events of the first film and sees Ben Whishaw star as a grown Michael Banks, his wife has not long passed away and he’s struggling to cope look after his 3 children and run the family home.

Michael has forgotten to make 3 loan payments and the bank is foreclosing on the house, giving them just 5 days to get the money or get out.

And that is basically the story.

There’s not much to it at all, the adults need to find a share certificate and lighten up a little, the kids need to stop acting like adults and lighten up a little so along comes Mary Poppins to wave her magic umbrella and fix everything.

The problem with Mary Poppins Returns is that it lacks the warmth and charm of the original. I found very little humour in it (I don’t think I laughed once)  and I had to reach for a hanky at one point thanks to an excellent Withenshaw who is wasted is this film.

Emily Blunt’s clipped could-cut-glass English accent has none of the undercurrent of love that Julie Andrews’ version has. In fact the only reason we know Blunt’s Poppins isn’t a right bitch is down to a few knowing looks in various shiny surfaces.

Musically the film is a bit of a let down, there isn’t a show stopper like
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and the big ensemble dance number (that replaces the chimney sweeps with lamplighters) has to rely on BMX stunts and parkour to make it vaguely interesting.

The film is also far too long, weighing in at 2 hours and 10 minutes. I looked at my watch (always a bad sign) and was horrified to discover only 20 minutes had passed when it felt like the film should be wrapping up.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Mary Poppins film without a dodgy cockney accent and while Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) could never, ever, ever be as bad as Dick Van Dyke, a cockney accent is more than saying “wiv” instead of “with” – why Hollywood insists on making American actors attempt a cockney accent I’ll never know.

And Mary Poppins’ mockney accent during the “A Cover Is Not A Book” number doesn’t fair any better.

Speaking of Dick Van Dyke, the real stars of the show are the celebrity cameo moment. Meryl Streep as cousin Topsy is a hilariously drunk sounding character (I’m not sure if it was a Russian accent or just vodka that was at work here) and she certainly shows Blunt et al how it’s really done. Julie Walters is also present as the family cook Ellen, doing her best “I’m not channeling Mrs Overall, honest” impression.

Van Dyke makes a welcome appearance as the “young” Mr Dawes Jr. and throws in a nice reference to a gag in the previous film, David Warner is great as the crotchety admiral but that standout performance for me was from Dame Angela Lansbury as the Balloon Lady. She may be 93 but she certainly blew Blunt off the screen in the few seconds they shared together (think Judy Dench in Shakespeare In Love).

Overall the film was pretty much what I expected – a cynical attempt to cash in on a much loved tradition which seems to be par for the course at Disney at the moment (Lion King and Dumbo being released later this year as further examples).

Watch this if you have a spare couple of of hours over the rainy holidays, but don’t expect the kids to pick up any long lasting catch phrases or sing any songs 20 years later.

Instant Family

You need to bear with this film – the first 20 minutes will either have you wanting to leave or throw something at the screen thanks to the “fostering and adoption is so important. Here, have loads and loads of facts that will make you feel super guilty but you won’t remember the minute the funny business starts.”

Okay, we get it. Having kids in the care system is horrible and if we’re childless we should all feel horrible about ourselves and immediately rush out and foster 90 bajillion kids. The things that makes this brow-beating bearable is the hilarious onscreen chemistry between Karen (Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures, The Shape Of Water) and Sharon (Tig Notaro who I’d not heard of but is in a lot of American TV stuff).

Once you get over the “you should all be ashamed of yourselves” message, the film moves into more familiar comedic territory where we meet Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) who feel something is missing in their lives but, as they have left having kids a bit late, think that adoption might be the best way to get an “age appropriate” family.

The couple finally settle on mouthy teenager Lizzy (played by the fantastic Isabela Moner who previously starred with Wahlberg in Transformers 5: The Last Knight – but don’t let that put you off). The problem? She comes with baggage – emotional in that her real Mum was a crackhead and physical in that she has a younger brother and sister and they all come as a package.

Pete and Ellie decide to take the trio on and there’s your typical comedic “getting to know you moments” from temper tantrums over not having crisps for dinner to playing with the boxes and not the presents during their first “family” Christmas.

There isn’t anything hugely adventurous or standout about this film, it’s pretty standard stuff. What is does do well however is deal with the sense of displacement and loss that children feel from being moved around the foster system, how it’s difficult for them to trust anyone for fear of being let down by the system and their own biological parents, and what it’s like from the foster parent’s point of view when dealing with the “you’re not my real parents” arguments and potential loss of the kids that they have grown to love.

That being said, while I did get a bit teary-eyed at parts (you’ll want to take some tissues), the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. Pete is worried that he and his white middle-class wife Ellie adopting 3 Hispanic children may be seen as white savior syndrome (we’re looking at you Madonna and Angelina Jolie) and in order to voice his fears he likens it swooping in to help the blue guys in Avatar which the Karen and Sharon assure him it’s not.

Wahlberg and Byrne are good as the put-upon parents but the standout performances are from the 3 children; Isabela Moner’s petulant teenager Izzy, walking accident waiting to happen Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and the crisp loving Lita (Julianna Gamiz) – they all really hit the mark with their various roles and are a joy to watch on screen, I’m sure they’re all destined for great things.

The supporting cast are also well chosen, and well used. The teacher in the hallway trying to stop the floor polisher is hilarious, and keep an eye out towards the end of the film for a cameo from Joan Cusack who does steal a rather emotional scene between Pete, Elie and a distraught Lizzy.

Instant Family won’t win any awards but it Is a fun film, even if it’s a bit heavy handed on the foster and adoption message.

Oh, and stay through the end credits as the end credit track is sung by the talented Moner and it’s well worth a listen.

Watch this film if you’re looking for some fun, clever comedy with an emotional touch, or if you enjoy seeing people get kicked in the nuts by an irate Mum.