Several months late, I just watched “Saving Mr. Banks,” the not-quite-biography of Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers, and it got me thinking: assuming I make it big, I don’t think I want to be movie-fied.
While it’s fun to think “who would play me in a movie of my life?” I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie biopic of an author that didn’t make them seem somewhat crazy.
Officially, of course, “Saving Mr. Banks” is about the making of the movie version of “Mary Poppins.” Really that is just an excuse, however, as the movie uses a lot of flashbacks to Travers’ childhood to explain her fears about the movie production.
(If you’re late to the movie, too, skip down until the line to avoid spoilers.)
The movie strongly implies–if doesn’t 100% outright say–that the whole reason Travers created Mary Poppins and the Banks family was to exorcize her childhood demons related to her loving, carefree, alcoholic mess of a father, who died when she was young and for whose death she has already blamed herself. This seems to embody her whole purpose of being, creating her into the rigid, unfriendly, unpleasant person she at first appears to be.
It isn’t until the magic of Mr. Walt Disney comes into her life and persuades her to let him try to make a movie that Travers is able to find some closure.
Now I don’t know much about Ms. Travers’ personal life story, but I frankly find it hard to believe that her whole life was fixated on this one thing. Surely it takes more than a tragic backstory to create an enduring childhood fixture?
But Beatrix Potter perhaps has a worse treatment in her author-biography movie, “Miss Potter.” This one is an outright biography, no pussyfooting around with it, and serves up a large dose of personal tragedy, and then dogpiles onto her by making it seem like she literally talks out loud to her characters…essentially making her into either a sweet creator or, more realistically, a benign crazy person.
I think all authors can commiserate with the idea that our characters “speak” to us in some way or another, but animating Peter Rabbit and the like and having her literally talk to them makes her seem nutty.
Check out the trailer for a hint:
Perhaps tragedy is a requirement for a biopic to be made of you. I love/hate to watch “Finding Neverland” because poor J.M. Barrie is positively tortured. Allen Ginsberg fares a little better in “Howl,” but I’m not really sure it doesn’t make him seem less like a rebel with a cause and more like a drug-fueled lazy addict.
In short, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a biopic where the author seems like someone you’d like to know. I don’t know what tragedy scriptwriters would concoct, dig up, or construct for my life, and I think I’d prefer it to stay that way.