"SAVING MR. BANKS"

Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks in Saving Mr. Banks.

The accomplished barefoot British actor and martini drinker Emma Thompson gives a great performance as the Australian creator of Mary Poppins in the new Disney film Saving Mr. Banks.

But Thompson's role as a surprisingly asexual Pamela Lyndon Travers is not important. Neither is Tom Hanks' airbrushed depiction of Walt Disney.

What matters is that Saving Mr. Banks is not your supercalifragilisticexpialidocious dose of Disney escapism.

Neither is it your usual feel-good Hollywood fare.

Saving Mr. Banks is a real life horror movie - for men.

It's about blokes like me who go through life blissfully ignorant of how our self-destructive, irrational behaviour affects the people we love. Every miserable, job-hating, freedom-loving, old-age-fearing Aussie bloke should be forced to take a day off work and join the queue.

This movie is just the sort of yucky-tasting medicine required for any man who strives to be a good role model and provider for his family yet is always hiding his insecurities and muttering: whatever happened to the happy, vibrant young thing I once was?

Saving Mr. Banks is tailor-made for every husband who blames his wife for all the responsibilities and stress of his mundane existence, but who deep down knows he has built that prison himself and could change things if he wanted.

Based loosely on a biography by former Sydney Morning Herald journalist Valerie Lawson, Saving Mr. Banks focuses on Walt Disney's attempt to secure Travers' support for his much-loved 1964 film version of her Mary Poppins books.

But Travers, Disney and the magical nanny are just bit players in the new film.

The real star is the deeply flawed Irish romantic cum banker cum father cum boozer cum loser Travers Robert Goff - the author's dad, played by Colin Farrell.

Goff loved his kids to bits and they loved him.

But Goff was a victim of the great Australia malaise - big dreams, small country, dislike of authority, blokey vulnerabilities, unspoken feelings and easy grog.

Like so many Australian fathers, Goff's angst-ridden boozing made him fun to be around.

It also created an emotional absence that his wife and daughters could never overcome.

Doomed to fall short of his own and everyone else's expectations, Goff lost the plot, his career and his life in the Darling Downs town of Allora. The author was seven. It scarred her and her family for life.

Contrary to criticism from Richard Brody in The New Yorker and others, the focus on Travers' dysfunctional Irish-Australian background makes the movie a must-see. It's for every old bloke who as a boy did not understand why his own dad was always drinking and yelling but rarely laughing; who asked himself why mum was always crying and pleading but rarely hugging; why she might want to kill herself but never did; and why all those great aunts and grandmothers seemed so reassuring despite their stories of drowning in bathtubs, breakdowns, sanatoriums and good for nothings who went away and never came back.

It's for every dad who has tried to avoid all that in his own family; who has battled to create a happy world for his children through lullabies, reading before bedtime and making up little stories about Milo monsters whose poo is collected and dried to become breakfast cereal.

It's for all of us who cannot sing a note except during Dublin's Fair City but who nonetheless stumble over the words - often tired, usually emotional and almost always both. Saving Mr. Banks is for any father who has sat across a poker table from his children or been at the movies with them only to find there is no answer forthcoming when they ask: why do you look so sad, dad?

It's for all of us who want to be around forever but know we won't be - and deep down concede it's our own stupid fault.

And it's for those who worry about how the children will remember us, hoping against hope that we haven't scarred them too badly.

Only with the aid of Mary Poppins - based on the author's Aunty Ellie - could P.L. Travers save the good parts of her father forever and consign the worst to his grave.

No, Saving Mr. Banks cannot be taken with a spoonful of sugar to make the nasty-tasting medicine go down.

But if you take your kids along, hold their hands and close your eyes, something magical might happen: you might just tell them how you feel.

Such is life…

astokes@fairfaxmedia.com.au