But How Gay is ‘Mary Poppins Returns’?

In “But How Gay Is It?”, we seek to answer the biggest questions you have about a new movie release in theaters now — including, most crucially, the titular question. Does the movie have any queer characters? Are there stories involving same-sex lovers? Which gay icons star in the film? We’re bringing you all that and more.

What is Mary Poppins Returns? You know Mary Poppins, from the 1964 movie Mary Poppins? It’s the titular role? Anyway, like Ben, she’s back! The magical nanny reappears 25 years after her first drop-in at the Banks home. Now-grown Michael Banks is in a crisis, having lost his wife and now in danger of losing his home. Mary returns to help give his own children hope and dreams, while slowly, quietly pushing him to save himself. She does this, of course, mostly through song and imagination.

Who’s in it? Emily Blunt takes over the role of Mary from Julie Andrews, and she does so with extraordinary aplomb. Her Mary is, for lack of a better term, kind of over it. She’s quippier, bitchier, and chillier. None of this comes at the expense of her heart, but she’s a somewhat deeper character this time around. Her spoonfuls of sugar come with a sharp, bitter aftertaste, but they’re better for your health. Blunt really manages a magic trick, not merely copying Andrews’ iconic (and Oscar-winning!) performance, but also not straying so far from it that Mary is unrecognizable. She’s likely to get her first Oscar nomination for the performance, and it will be a well-deserved nod.

Ben Whishaw plays the newly-mid-30s Michael, and is just perfect. He’s boyish enough to be familiar to us as Michael, but has mostly lost the wonder of being young. When he, spoiler alert, rediscovers his own sense of imagination, he becomes a delightful sprite of joy. Emily Mortimer is also great as sister Jane Banks, who has developed like her mother into a civil rights activist. She gets less to do, but does have an incredibly charming romantic subplot with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lamplighter Jack. Those who are somewhat allergic to Miranda’s brand of earnestness like I am, fear not: He’s perfect for this, and nails the biggest, best number in the movie, “Trip a Little Light Fantastic.”

The film also serves as something of an unintentional Mamma Mia! reunion, with Colin Firth, Julie Walters, and Meryl Streep in supporting roles. And of course, there are two super fun cameos: Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury. There’s truly something for everyone in this cast.

Why should I see it? It’s delightful! Seriously. I’m not one to be won over by nostalgia plays or earnest musicals, and this movie fucking got me. It’s just a wonderful confection with heart, a killer score, and some great performances.

But how gay is it? Well, it’s a musical, so check box one. Mary Poppins is a gay icon, so check box two. And most importantly, Michael Banks is played by a gay man! Whishaw is an out actor, and it’s wonderful to have him as the central protagonist in a big-budget Disney movie. He’s also cute as hell in this, but that’s just this author’s opinion.

Does the movie spend too much time trying to recreate the original? I’ve heard that criticism, but personally I really don’t think it does! There are lovely touches that allude to the original (one line in closing number “Nowhere to Go But Up” acknowledges “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” for example), but overall, this is a real sequel — just a short 54 years later.

How is Rob Marshall’s direction? Marshall gave us Chicago, and for that we will forever be grateful. But we can be honest and say some of his most recent work has been, um, not his strongest. (Sorry, Into the Woods.) This is a return to form for him, though, and the movie is legitimately visually stunning. The “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” number in particular dazzles, with some of the best choreography I’ve seen on film in a minute (and, unlike in The Greatest Showman, it’s filmed properly so you can actually see it). To me, this is a home run. Now we just have to see how audiences receive it.

Mary Poppins Returns is in theaters now.


 

Kevin O'KeeffeKevin O'Keeffe

Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer and 'RuPaul's Drag Race' herstorian. He covers film and TV for INTO, and writes the movie review column "But How Gay Is It?" every Friday.

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