Bridget Jones’ Baby

Director: Sharon Maguire (2016) BBFC cert: 15

Fans of the UK’s favourite singleton will cheer at this amiably entertaining and almost touching third entry in the romcom franchise.

Renee Zellweger returns as an older, wiser and sadder but still loveable Bridget. The Texan’s talent and charm give the uneven and scattershot script a depth it doesn’t deserve. Her assured underplaying is especially welcome in a restaurant scene of excruciating embarrassment.

Helen Fielding based her original Bridget Jones Diary newspaper column on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (pub. 1813). Books and films followed with great commercial success.

Having Fielding, Dan Mazar and Emma Thompson contributing conflicting styles of humour to the script causes unresolved tensions between scenes. Plus there is again a grating change of politics between those found in the source material and some of the broader gags.

It’s not one should expect Austen levels of wit from this generally light-hearted romp, but there is a huge departure from the author’s social concerns in order to land a few punchlines. Austen was highly critical of a society where the second class status of women made them financially reliant on men and forced them to seek a ‘good’ marriage. In Bridget’s world finding a rich man is one what does for sport, not necessity.

Fielding astutely includes her comic standbys of a Bridget film. There is a breathy voice over, an obsession with sex and alcohol, a grand resignation, swearing kids and eccentric OAPs. The famous diary has been replaced by a laptop. It’s all as cosy as one of Bridget’s famous Christmas jumpers, which also make an appearance.

Thompson won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for her adaption of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1995. Novel pub. 1811). Presumably she wrote her scene stealing role as Bridget’s maternity doctor, the only consistently Austen-like female character on show.

The brief moment when the tone threatens to take a dark almost Dickensian turn also suggests Thompson’s fingers in charge of the keyboard. This plays far better than Fielding’s indulgent, ill conceived and seemingly Richard Curtis inspired cameos, Italian stereotypes and pratfalls. Having said that, Thompson isn’t afraid to lift a joke popstar Robbie Williams used on Graham Norton’s chat show, during an edition on which she also appeared.

Thompson’s deftly drawn and waspish character is hugely at odds with the presumably Mazar scripted sequence featuring a distressed and suddenly helpless Bridget. Our heroine relies for rescue on a pair of men for transport, only to find their way blocked by a parade of breast baring radical feminists.

At this point all pretence of Bridget as a modern, independent woman is abandoned for cheap gags and a Cinderella subtext. This moment also sees the flowering of another subtext as Bridget’s vagina is reduced to a conduit for a closeted bromance.

In the film’s defence there is a strong if ham-fisted appeal for inclusivity. There is also a decent Margaret Thatcher joke, though not at the Iron Lady’s expense.

Having been nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for co-writing Baron Cohen’s Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006), it’s easy to speculate which elements Mazar contributed. More recently he wrote the Zac Efron/Robert DeNiro gross out comedy Dirty Grandpa (2016).

The film opens in a reassuringly familiar fashion and will immediately win old fans over. Although now a successful if accident prone TV news producer, Bridget celebrates her 43rd birthday alone, drinking chardonnay and listening to her signature tune ‘All By Myself’,  by Eric Carmen.

After a couple of one night stands, the occasional wanton sex goddess finds herself pregnant and unsure whom the father is. One possible parent is Jack Qwant, a billionaire mathematician and internet dating guru at a music festival. American TV star Patrick Dempsey is vanilla at best.

The other is her former lover, the now married but still uptight human rights lawyer, Mark Darcy. Bridget and he bump into each other at a memorial service for his erstwhile and wonderfully louche love rival, Daniel Cleaver.

The absence of Hugh Grant’s Cleaver is keenly felt. Colin Firth’s grumpy and lacklustre performance as Darcy suggests he is pining for Grant’s light comic touch to rub up against.

Jim Broadbent and Gemma Jones offer game support as Bridget’s parents alongside franchise favourites Celia Imrie, Shirley Henderson, James Callis and Sally Phillips.

It all ends in champagne as our heroine becomes the sort of person she once purported to despise. A late and predictable plot twist suggests a fourth film is not out of the question.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

 

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Director: John Madden (2015)

In this sedate comedy drama sequel, the ex-pat British residents of the Indian hotel offer comfy accommodation and make few demands on your attention.

A colourful backdrop can’t brighten up dull goings-on as familiar faces tread a predictable path over a well worn plot.

Sonny (Dev Patel) and Muriel (Maggie Smith) want to expand their hotel business by buying the Hotel Splendid. So they travel to San Diego to meet potential investors to finance the deal.

Back in Jaipur, silver haired and silver tongued American writer Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) arrives unannounced. Snobbish and insecure idiot Sonny is convinced he is a secret inspector sent by the investors to spy on their business.

Sonny is so pre-occupied with keeping Guy happy he neglects bridezilla fiancee Sunaina (Tena Desae), pushing her towards the handsome, wealthy Kushal (Shazad Latif).

Patel’s agitated playing grates rather than charms or entertains, Smith’s cockney charlady accent is inconsistent while Desae mostly spends her time dancing or scolding.

Meanwhile it’s all a little Are You Being Served? on the Costa Plonka as several hotbeds of passion are in full swing. Guy has his glad eye on Sonny’s glamorous mother Mrs. Kapoor (Lillete Dubey). Madge (Celia Imrie) is after anything in or out of trousers.

As Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) work up the courage to seize the day – and each other – his wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) turns up.

There’s a bit of a carry on when Norman (Ronald Pickup) inadvertently hires a tuc tuc driver as a hit-man to assassinate his girlfriend Carol (Diana Hardcastle).

Among the stunning scenery of rural Jaipur there are elephants, cows and camels. Street markets bustle with hard bargaining and backhand payments. Mumbai has airports, air conditioning, business conferences and heavy traffic.

Residents are affected by the universal ailments longing, loss and loneliness but room is also found for optimism in late middle age.

The ending suggests a loss of nerve by the scriptwriters who otherwise bandy creaky knee jokes about with abandon. As well as equally creaky ones about hips, eyes, backbones and mortality.

The actors aren’t asked to exert themselves so much as to risk an injury and it’s all far too familiar to be exotic. Definitely second best, at best.

☆☆☆