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 The famous diary has been replaced by a laptop.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

 

 

Florence Foster Jenkins

Director: Stephen Frears (2016)

Big screen diva Meryl Streep launches a ferocious assault on your ears in this biopic of the worlds worst opera singer.

As the title character, her ignorance of a lack of talent is a punishing off note joke.

But if you can endure Streep’s cacophony of comic caterwauling, there’s a lot of enjoyment in the tender chemistry created with her on screen husband St. Clair Bayfield, played by Hugh Grant.

It’s New York 1944 and heiress Florence is an overly generous patron of the arts whose entourage exploits her good nature for cash.

Determined to aid the war effort, she books herself a gig at Carnegie Hall and gives a thousand servicemen free tickets.

This threatens St. Clair’s luxurious life as neither he, tutors or muscians dare tell Florence the painful truth about her lack of ability, for fear of being put out on their arias.

Director Stephen Frears’ lack of visual ambition is compensated by adhering to the narrative and focusing on character.

He’s rewarded with two marvellous performances as the leads stretch their throats in extraordinary ways.

Grant has never better. With the fading of his still considerable leading man looks, his tremendous talent shines ever brighter. He gave a light comic masterclass in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and here he dances like a young James Stewart.

Streep was last seen singing on screen as a bar room rocker in the weak Ricki And The Flash (2015) and here gives a performance of grand neurotic eccentricity.

The stars essay a complex relationship while the script saves its mockery for the sycophants who surround them.

Rebecca Ferguson is under served as St. Clair’s lover but Nina Arianda is show stopping as a ticking blonde bombshell, threatening blow up the whole charade whenever she speaks her mind.

This is the second telling of the story this year, after the French language version Marguerite (2016) which won 4 prestigious Cesar awards.

This version is undemanding with broad appeal, and you don’t have to appreciate opera to enjoy it.

 

 

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Director: Guy Ritchie (2015)

This big budget update of a much loved 1960’s spy series is sumptuous, smooth and stylish.

Although the loose vibe and fabulous locations are seductive, sadly the script and the chemistry aren’t.

4 series of the U.N.C.L.E. TV series ran from 1964 to 1968, plus there was the TV movie The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1983).

Robert Vaughn starred as the American Napoleon Solo and British actor David McCallum as the Russian Illya Kuryakin.

Beyond the concept, period setting and character names not much remains of the show.

There’s not a radio pen in sight, no opening of Channel D, nor a hint of T.H.R.U.S.H. The U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) organisation of the title receives a very belated introduction.

Director Guy Ritchie suffered a career slump with the inglorious mis-steps of Swept Away (2002) and Revolver (2005).

He painstakingly rebuilt his reputation as a safe pair of blockbuster hands with the excellent Sherlock Holmes franchise: Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows (2011).

Here he’s content to reject his customary zip and go against the grain of contemporary action movies. He is wilfully dismissive, almost contemptuous of his own plot.

Instead of constant wham bam action scenes he focuses on character and builds a mood of glamorous, languid indulgence which is rich in period detail.

It’s an admirable if potentially career-harming move by the writer/director/producer.

Having given Ritchie a name cast and a $75million budget, one can only imagine the horror of the studio’s executives on their first screening.

Certainly Ritchie can argue he included all the elements they wanted; cars, guns, girls, stunts, jokes – but the way he has editor James Herbert put it all together must have them tearing their hair out.

Even the sexually available and semi-naked hotel receptionist seems a studio imposition.

Elsewhere however there is a worrying confluence of violence and foreplay and a fair amount of dull macho posturing for which Ritchie can’t escape responsibility.

In 1963 the US and the USSR are threatening each other with nuclear annihilation.

Rogue nazi sympathiser Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) has stolen a computer disc. She’s a deliciously tall and cool glass of cyanide.

The disc contains data on how to super-enrich uranium to make nuclear bombs far more powerful than in existence, threatening the uneasy balance of the super-hot cold war. Whomever has the disc controls the world.

Top man at the CIA and art expert Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is unwillingly teamed up with ferocious KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer).

Both receive orders to recover the disc at any cost.

But the two leads are hamstrung by dull, innuendo-laden banter and a desire to project a faultless accent.

While the British Cavill plays an American, the American Hammer plays a Russian.

Hammer has less dialogue and is more able to cope but Cavill’s lumbered with laborious exposition. His careful enunciation slows scenes to a crawl.

Doing his best work when not required to speak, Cavill’s – and the film’s – best moment comes when Solo takes time to appreciate the finer aspects of life as the action goes on behind him.

It’s possible he would have been a brilliant silent movie star back in the day.

With his chiselled features and broad frame he’s the most classically movie star-looking movie star since James Garner. He steps through the film with the stately and exquisitely tailored grace of the ageing Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief (1955).

The two spies recruit an East German motor mechanic Gaby Teller (Swedish Alicia Vikander). Her rocket scientist father is held by Victoria and the boys intend to use Gabby’s connections to infiltrate Victoria’s outfit.

Sporting a chic collection of outfits but metaphorically trouser-wearing, Gabby refuses to yield superiority to the boys in any department.

A grey-haired Hugh Grant shuffles on for a couple of scenes to deliver a masterclass in light comedy.

With a storming pop operatic soundtrack throughout, Ritchie saves his visual dynamism for the finale when the screen erupts into a frenzy of split screens, fast cuts and twisted camerawork.

With beautiful production design by Oliver Scholl captured with glossy delight by cinematographer John Mathieson, it makes for a very easy on the eye experience. Berlin in 1963 is expertly rendered.

Ritchie should be applauded for making a film with a strong identity and has the courage to stand or fall on it’s own terms.

But for all it’s speedboats, helicopters and a terrifically synchronised car chase, it’s a pity it’s not more full throttle.