It’s a slightly eclectic mix of movies this week. First up is Long Shot (2019), in which Seth Rogen plays a journalist who gets hired by his former babysitter to write her speeches – said babysitter now being Secretary of State Charlize Theron. In the process, can he remind her of her youthful ideals?
Then we have Mary Poppins Returns (2018), in which Mary Poppins returns. Isn’t that obvious?
Reviews after the jump.
Long Shot (2019)
Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) is a gifted and free-spirited journalist who has a knack for getting into trouble. Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is one of the most influential women in the world – a smart, sophisticated and accomplished politician.
When Fred unexpectedly runs into Charlotte, he soon realises that she was his former babysitter and childhood crush. When Charlotte decides to make a run for the presidency, she impulsively hires Fred as her speechwriter –much to the dismay of her trusted advisers.
Definitely a long shot
A rom-com? With Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron? Oh man, that’s got to suck, right? Rogen’s just all swearing and nob jokes, while Theron’s been hanging out with Seth McFarlane, so isn’t much better, right?
Unexpectedly, no. Rogen may have spent most of the years since Knocked Up dedicating himself to the increasingly passé genre of gross-out comedy, while doing all he can to promote soft drugs, but as a producer, he’s been doing some credible work on TV with the likes of Future Man, Preacher and most recently The Boys.
So perhaps it’s not a big surprise that while there’s quite a large hint of both soft drugs and gross-out comedy in Long Shot, it’s actually a lot smarter than you’d expect.
Long Shot is a lot of things. It’s an examination of the double standard in how women in the public eye are treated compared to men. It ponders on power imbalances in relationships between men and women and between men and women in relationships. It looks at how experience and age change our attitudes to sex.
It looks at how we lose track of our ideals as we have to compromise with others – should we stand firm and lose or change and perhaps win a small victory at least? It asks what the point is of journalism in an age when the rich and powerful own all the newspapers and real news is ignored by the masses. Where does power truly lie now? It considers whether liberals are too insular and judgemental of others, while highlighting conservatives’ own problems and ‘light headedness’.
It does all of that and more, while also having Rogen come in his own beard, Theron and Rogen taking Molly in a club, and pretty much everyone swearing like a trooper.
Long Shot is also funny, and there’s a decent supporting cast, too, including Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) as a thinly veiled version of Donald Trump, Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood) as an even less thinly veiled version of Justin Trudeau and a completely unrecognisable Andy Serkis (Streetwise) as a sort of hybrid of the Koch Brothers and Rupert Murdoch.
It’s probably not going to go down as a classic of anything and its crudity is its greatest weakness. But it has a lot of interesting things to say and is a properly adult comedy in its truest sense.
Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
Now an adult with three children, bank teller Michael Banks learns that his house will be repossessed in five days unless he can pay back a loan. His only hope is to find a missing certificate that shows proof of valuable shares that his father left him years earlier.
Just as all seems lost, Michael and his sister receive the surprise of a lifetime when Mary Poppins — the beloved nanny from their childhood – arrives to save the day and take the Banks family on a magical, fun-filled adventure.
So, I’m of an odd age. A very odd age. I grew up in the 80s, which means that when I was the right age to watch Disney movies, there was nothing for me to watch. Nothing much at the cinema except Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Nothing on VHS. There was the occasional movie on TV, which it was always up against sport, so I didn’t get to see it.
All I knew about Disney movies, as a result, was what I saw from clips on that perennial BBC One Bank Holiday mainstay, Disney Time.
You have no idea how much I wanted to watch Tron, just from the trailer they showed.
Anyway, by the time Disney started making them available on VHS and then DVD, I was too old for them.
All of which is my long-winded way of saying I’ve never seen Mary Poppins. I know. Inconceivable.
I know the songs, I know some of the set-up, I know Dick Van Dyke had the world’s worst Cockney accent. But the plot? Nope. Something involving a nanny, right?
As a result, I also have no idea if Mary Poppins Returns was sacrilegious, a patch on the original or anything else. I can only judge it on its own merits.
And it was… odd.
It’s a jolly holiday
Modern Disney films and indeed modern movies have a certain way of doing things, certain assumptions and certain ways of telling stories. You may not know what they are, but you could maybe spot something was wrong if a movie didn’t follow these well worn tracks.
And although Mary Poppins Returns is a clearly a modern movie with a highly recognisable, modern cast – Emily Blunt, Lin‑Manuel Miranda, Emily Mortimer, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep and Ben Whishaw, to name but a few of its members – in many ways, it feels like a time capsule that fell from the 1950s and 1960s. The animation, the songs, the script and the direction all seem to manage to recreate the style of those times.
It’s really impressively done and my hat’s off to them, even more than it is to the technical wizardry of the recent CGI Lion King. It’s one thing to iterate technology another step forward, it’s quite another to think like people did 50-odd years ago.
Taking a pop
There are, as you might imagine, nods and even literal winks to the original. Umbrella flying, magic mirrors, references to chimney sweeps all caught my untrained eye, while Lin-Manuel Miranda’s accent caught my untrained ear. But the most obvious was the appearance of Dick Van Dyke, reprising one of his original characters and showing that there’s still life in those dancing feet of his.
But will Mary Poppins Returns endure in the same way as the Mary Poppins? I’m not sure it will. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s songs are catchy when you’re listening to them, but a month on from when I watched it, I can’t remember so much as a note of them.
Emily Blunt is a different Poppins to Julie Andrews’ for sure, and may even be closer to the Poppins of the book. But she feels a little joyless and overly posh, no matter how many alternate guises she takes during the action.
The family’s dilemma also feels like a misstep – do the posh people lose their family home after the death of the mother, because dad is too caught up in himself to pay the bills on time, rather than because they can’t afford it? At a time – the Great Depression – when people are dying in huge numbers from abject poverty? When posh old Mortimer is off campaigning for better wages for the workers, because apparently she doesn’t need a paying job?
It’s not exactly got its finger on the pulse of the class struggle, has it?
Maybe you have to have loved Mary Poppins to love Mary Poppins Returns. Or maybe you have to at least be the kind of person who could love Mary Poppins. But that ain’t me and while I did enjoy it and did appreciate its many strengths, it’s not something that wins over hearts and minds.