Mary Poppins and Roma: Keep calm and nanny on
Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Roma’ and ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ by Rob Marshall have a lot in common: Children in a family with an absent father find stability in their nanny, who seems to come out of nowhere only to become an integral part of their livesUpdated: Jan 05, 2019 23:37 IST
The year 2018 ended with a much-loved film about a nanny being streamed into our homes and 2019 has begun with a film about a much-loved nanny opening in theatres. To complete this circle of life, many of those who saw these films would have relied upon nannies to take care of the fruits of their loins, so that the parents can focus on the on-screen entertainment.
At the risk of giving cinema connoisseurs a heart attack, Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Roma’ and ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ by Rob Marshall have a lot in common. Children in a family with an absent father find stability in their nanny, who seems to come out of nowhere only to become an integral part of their lives. In ‘Mary Poppins Returns’, the father eventually checks back in while in ‘Roma’, he pulls a Mary Poppins and disappears because he has another family to which he must attend.
The differences between the two films are so many that the basic similarity hides in plain sight. ‘Roma’ is elegant, realistic and profoundly arty while the colours in ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ are saturated to the point of popping and everything is make-believe. Some might say Cuaron’s is good while Marshall’s is so committed to being a knock-off that it qualifies for ‘bad’. ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ has a dream cast of Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Whishaw with cameos by Meryl Streep, Dick van Dyke, Colin Firth and Angela Lansbury. Money has been lavished upon making it as memorable as the 1964 film that established Julie Andrews as practically perfect in every way. Unfortunately, compared to ‘Mary Poppins’, the tricks aren’t tricksy enough, the choreography isn’t as sharp and the songs aren’t as hummable. Most importantly, ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ lacks heart.
Like ‘Mary Poppins’, ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ manifests the domestic help that grown-ups dream of. She’s a working woman, but sounds posh and doesn’t care about money. She loves the children she’s hired to raise but isn’t possessive. Her emotions are irrelevant and while she might yank her employers’ chains occasionally, she knows her place and when to exit left. All this is also true of Cleo, the maid and nanny in ‘Roma’.
The most intriguing difference, however, is how the two nanny films deal with social inequality at the heart of their plots. Whether in the arty ‘Roma’ or the commercial ‘Mary Poppins Returns’, the norm being sold is that it’s ok to assume these women workers exist only for the benefit of the upper classes and their value lies in the services they provide. ‘Roma’ attempts to exonerate the employers by showing empathy and interest in her life outside work. ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ gift wraps the inequality in pretty visuals and special effects.
‘Mary Poppins’ is the fantasy nanny of every parent’s dreams while Cleo – neither outsider nor family – is rooted in reality seen through rose-tinted spectacles. Unless you live in India, that is.
Think of the most generous and open-minded family you know. Now imagine the matriarch of that family hugging the help and pressing a grateful kiss on her forehead. Or keeping the single but pregnant nanny on the job. Think back to all the words of caution doled out while evaluating the help. Is she too nubile, too old, too chatty, too serious, too smart, too lazy, too much of a threat? In a society that finds nothing problematic about making a nanny stand at the edge of a table she isn’t allowed to sit or eat at, Cleo’s life is the fantasy.
First Published: Jan 05, 2019 23:37 IST