MOVIES & BOOZE: A cheerful movie for Christmas

Esther McCarthy reviews Mary Poppins Returns and gives her top films for 2018

Mary Poppins Returns (G) ****

EMILY BLUNT and Lin-Manuel Miranda are practically perfect in this joyful new movie about the world’s most famous nanny. 

The two leads bring life and humour to this eagerly anticipated film which brings just about enough new story to justify its existence while containing plenty of nods to the 1964 classic. Blunt is no Julie Andrews, nor does she try to be, bringing her own strengths and modern sensibilities to the stellar childminder. She is excellent onscreen. 

It’s all very cheerful and lovely if a little slight, and while director Rob Marshall (Chicago) proves a safe and reliable pair of hands, we’ll need to hear the new tunes a few more times to decide if they’re set to become classics. 

What Mary Poppins Returns does well it does very well, building story and gearing itself firmly towards children and family audiences. The young cast members get plenty of screen time, and the film succeeded in holding the attention of the many children of all ages in the audience at the screening I attended. 

Not a remake of the classic (perish the thought) but a sequel of sorts, the movie is set in 1930s depession-era London. Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane (Mortimer) Banks are now all grown up and Michael lives with his own three kids and their housekeeper (Julie Walters) in the house on Cherry Tree Lane. 

But Michael has fallen on hard times following the tragic death of his wife, and is struggling with his own bereavement, managing the three children and staying on top of finances. It leads to the family being at very real risk of losing their precious home. By the time one of the kids flies a kite in the sky, only to spot the outline of a nanny hitching a ride on it, it’s clear Mary Poppins is needed more than ever before. 

Disney was wise not to reinvent the wheel here, but if anything, Mary Poppins Returns is overly reliant on the ideas and story threads put forward in the original film. For some, this will be part of its charm, but it feels like an opportunity missed, too. 

]Esther's Top Films of 2018

  1. I, Tonya: Craig Gillespie's film about skater Tonya Harding was a masterpiece in how to breathe life into the biopic, tearing up the rule book and delivering career-best performances from Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. 
  2. They Shall Not Grow Old: Peter Jackson's work in slowing down and digitally colourising footage from WW2 humanised the men who fought in the trenches and was by turns fascinating and devastating. 
  3. Roma: Alfonso Cuaron's deeply moving portrait of a family in Mexico City in 1970, inspired partly by the women who shaped his own childhood, will be a major Oscar contender in the New Year. 
  4. Leave No Trace: Director Debra Granik proved Winter's Bone was no fluke in this powerful, brilliantly acted drama about a father and daughter living on the margins. 
  5. A Star is Born: Bradley Cooper's masterful directorial debut was a smash, very moving and both epic and intimate in scale. Lady Gaga is a surefire awards-season contender.
  6. Custody: Excellent French thriller that centres about a family custody battle. If you missed it on its small Irish release this is worth seeking out. 
  7. First Man: Damien Chazelle's space epic placed us front and centre, bringing home the real risks faced in America's moon landing. 
  8. A Quiet Place: John Krasinski directed and starred, along with wife Emily Blunt, in this tense and  terrific horror that doesn't have an inch of flab. 
  9. Blackkklansman: Spike Lee's fierce, funny and stylish drama about a black man who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan has never felt more timely and relevant. 
  10. The Post: Beautifully made film about The Washington Post's efforts to uncover a government scandal.