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Posts Tagged ‘Patrick Dempsey’

Here’s the thing about me and the Bridget Jones movies: it’s never quite as simple as the usual ‘want to see a movie > see the movie’ progression. One day in 2001, my sister, her husband, and I wanted to go and see a movie to cheer ourselves up (we had just been to the funeral of a much-loved relative). I proposed Bridget Jones’s Diary, she said okay, he vetoed it on the grounds that it was ‘a chick flick’. So we ended up going to see Spy Kids instead, most of which my sister ended up sleeping through.

Then three years later the sequel came along, which I confess I was not much interested by, until word came along that this film – for some reason which is utterly beyond me – would be preceded by the first showing of the first trailer for Revenge of the Sith. Friends who know me only in my jaded current incarnation may have a hard time believing it, but this was a Big Deal at the time, and in my usual deftly Machiavellian way I talked my family into going to see it (the Bridget Jones sequel, obviously; I kept quiet about the last Star Wars film being in any way involved).

And that seemed very much to be it, although there is of course no statute of limitations on doing sequels (increasingly it feels like there really should be, though, don’t you think?). Now here comes Bridget Jones’s Baby, which I got talked into going to see (it was not a particularly hard sell as I’ll watch almost anything), and…

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Well, look. Fifteen years is a long time in movies; the life expectancy of a career can be very much less than that (just ask Chris O’Donnell or Alicia Silverstone). In 2001 Renee Zellweger was an up-and-comer and Miramax Pictures were a force to be reckoned with – these days, I imagine most people would struggle to name a recent vehicle for the actress and since the Weinsteins sold the company, Miramax have been making rather fewer waves of late. In short, this film feels a bit like it’s been made simply because it’s likely to be a commercial success for a bunch of people whose careers really need one right now.

The film is directed by Sharon Maguire. The laws of sequeldom demand that nothing has substantially changed for the principals in the 14 years since the last movie, so Bridget Jones (Zellweger) is still working in TV news, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) is still a high-powered barrister, and so on (the plot also requires them to have split up, although of course they still have deep feelings for one another). What, you may be wondering, of Hugh Grant’s character? Well, as Grant has opted not to come back (A Wise Career Move? Discuss), his character is missing, presumed dead – clearly they are still hoping he may be talked into appearing in Bridget Jones’s Menopause or Bridget Jones’s Hip Replacement or whatever the next sequel is called.

Anyway, having just turned 43 (all I will say on this subject is that Renee Zellweger herself is somewhat older) and feeling somewhat forlorn, Bridget allows herself to be talked into going to the Glastonbury Festival (cue mud-splattered slapstick pratfalls) where she ends up having an only moderately contrived one-nighter with passing billionaire Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey). Then, a few days later, she bumps into Darcy again at a christening, and when I say ‘bumps into’, I mean it in the Biblical sense.

Well, as the film is entitled Bridget Jones’s Baby, I’m sure you don’t need me to draw you a diagram as to what happens next. Cue lots of farcical misunderstandings and chaos as Bridget attempts to determine who the father is, while trying to keep the two men from finding out about each other. Zellweger’s main achievement is still her English accent. Emma Thompson appears as Bridget’s obstetrician, and gets most of the best lines, but then this should not come as a major surprise seeing as she co-wrote the script.

And in the end I suppose it all passes the time agreeably enough, though it did feel to me to be a bit too long. There are some very funny set pieces, mostly of the low-comedy variety, although they strike an unexpected vein of comedy gold quite early on when Zellweger starts lip-synching to House of Pain. This is, essentially, very much a standard British mainstream rom-com in the modern idiom, which translates as aspirational lifestyles, just a bit too much graphic sexual talk for you to feel comfortable watching it with your parents, upbeat pop-songs, and a slightly bemusing certainty that people shouting the F-word a lot is still inherently funny. (I mean, it was when Hugh Grant did it in 1994, but nowadays?)

The problem I had with the film is that its central idea just isn’t that funny or easy to identify with – the first two were essentially about whether your life partner should be the exciting, fun, unreliable one, or the dull but solid one (Colin Firth’s main achievement in these films is to make ‘dull but solid’ seem so attractive). Many people have had that kind of dilemma, I would imagine, but the situation of unexpectedly becoming a geriatric single mother while being uncertain who the father is is probably less universal.

Does Grant’s absence hurt the film? I would have to say so, partly because parachuting in a new main character three films in is never very successful, but also because Hugh Grant is simply an extremely accomplished light comedy actor of exactly the kind this sort of film needs. Dempsey isn’t actually bad, but he’s just a bit dull. As a result, Colin Firth really has to take on the job of lifting the film, and to be fair he does a better than decent job of it – but, and this may just be a personal thing, he seemed to me to be surrounded by a strangely mournful aura, as though every fibre of his being had grown accustomed to being a serious leading actor and no longer wanted to just be the male lead in a British rom-com.

The central thrust of the story is therefore just not that funny and the film resorts to a sort of lowest-common-denominator sentimentalism instead; all the bits which really made me laugh were rather peripheral. As I said, a lot of this is very broad comedy, and the rest is an extremely mixed bag – there are some desperate-feeling jokes where people who are middle-aged and feeling it make fun of young people and their beards, a peculiar not-very-topical subplot about Darcy representing a band clearly meant to be Pussy Riot (then again, this film has apparently been in development for six or seven years), and even a gag about Margaret Thatcher which would have been cutting-edge in 1989 (I’m sure it hasn’t been in development for that long).

For me it all felt rather contrived and perhaps a little bit desperate; I mean, I’m not saying I didn’t laugh, but I did sometimes feel like I was perhaps doing the film a favour by doing so. But your mileage may vary; most of the audience at the screening I went to were rolling in the aisles pretty consistently all the way through, and the person whose idea it was that we saw it said she couldn’t remember the last time she had such a good time at the cinema (what, better than West Side Story?, I rather grumpily wanted to say). I still can’t help thinking that this is undemanding stuff which knows its audience and will probably do quite well as a result. But God knows what the next one will be like.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published January 1st 2003:

Well, look, here’s the deal: I was staring New Year down the throat, sitting there comfortably on a grand total of 42 cinema visits in the whole of 2002 – an auspicious total for a Hootoo Post contributor, I think you’ll agree. And I was happy with that. But then Mpea and Spea came to stay and we thought we’d go out and see a movie (as opposed to sitting watching Speed for the Nth time). Following the usual tough negotiations we decided to risk going to see a new movie rather than watching Bond or the Towers again.

So we went to see Andy Tennant’s Sweet Home Alabama. It should really be called Reese Witherspoon’s Sweet Home Alabama, despite Tennant’s dubious use of the possessive credit at the top of the movie. This isn’t so much a star vehicle for Witherspoon as something that’s been vacuum-moulded around her. Without her there wouldn’t be a movie (something the bus stop posters for this film appear to have owned up to, inasmuch as they consist solely of a grinning headshot of the star).

Witherspoon plays Melanie Carmichael, an up-and-coming New York fashion designer who manages to be a successful go-getter while remaining a sweet and loveable person (the film earnestly tries to impress this upon you). Her loveability is confirmed as she is proposed to by posh bloke Andrew (Patrick Dempsey), a Kennedyish type whose mother (Candice Bergen) is the mayor (that she is the bad guy and that this movie is near-total fantasy are both confirmed by the fact that we’re expected to believe that she, the elected mayor of New York, is a Democrat). Mel accepts the proposal but then realises she’ll have to return home to her white-trash Alabama roots for the first time in seven years – because she still has a husband (Josh Lucas) back there she has to divorce. But has she completely put her past behind her? Or will the old feelings bubble to the surface?

Well, all together now – of course she hasn’t and of course they will. This much should be obvious, because we are in rom-com chick-flick territory where happy endings all round are marginally more certain than the rising of the sun each new day. The real question with this kind of film is, does it lift the spirits, bring forth gaiety and – most importantly – make you laugh?

Now I’m the first to agree that as a curmudgeonly old git I’m not the intended audience for this kind of film, so the fact I found it only sporadically amusing and not at all emotionally involving may not count for much. But I noticed that even in a packed theatre, no-one else was laughing much for the first hour of this film (emotional involvement is of course trickier to judge). As a romantic comedy this isn’t very romantic or very funny, and as a drama it’s too frothy and predictable to work, too often mistaking sentimentality for sentiment. (Not that there aren’t involving moments – one of the film’s big emotional scenes opens with Witherspoon sobbing at the grave of her dead dog, and true enough it would take a heart of stone not to laugh.)

This kind of culture-clash wedding-preparation schtick was done much more successfully earlier this year in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which worked mainly because the ethnic stereotypes in question were presented vibrantly and affectionately. Sweet Home Alabama presents both urban New York and the wilds of Alabama in an equally colourless way (presumably not wanting to alienate its potential audience in either constituency). The same goes for the two male leads, both of whom appear to have been selected for their minimal charisma and screen presence (presumably so as not to risk upstaging Reese Witherspoon). Quite frankly I couldn’t have cared less as to whether she ended up with the spineless socialite or the faintly-creepy backwoods obsessive, and caught myself thinking back fondly to Colin Firth and Hugh Grant in similar roles in Bridget Jones’ Diary.

A star vehicle needs more than just a star to succeed. Witherspoon does her formidable, spunky, perky best, but the rest of the film is too bland and timid. Yes, there are more laughs once Mel’s fiance arrives in Alabama, but it’s really too little too late – the end result is a film that lacks the warmth and charm it needs to hide how mechanical and obvious and trite it really is. For a much better film along vaguely similar lines, watch Grosse Point Blank instead. Awix nixes this hick pic.

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