Tag Archives: Hugh Grant

Baby Mama

Romantic triangle sets up sturdy comedy in ‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’

Film Title: Bridget Jones's Baby

Bridget Jones’s Baby
Starring Renèe Zellwegger, Colin Firth & Patrick Dempsey

Directed by Sharon Maguire
Rated R
In theaters Sept. 16, 2016

“How in the hell did I end up here again?” Bridget Jones asks herself as she sits on the couch of her London flat watching the pitiful flicker of a birthday candle in a cupcake remind her that she’s celebrating yet another birthday—number 43—alone.

We might ask the same question: How did Renèe Zellwegger end up in the same place, in the same role, one she hasn’t played in 12 years (since Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason), as a character that she launched back in 2001 in a movie originally made from a Helen Felding novel kinda-sorta based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?

Zellwegger received an Oscar nomination for Bridget Jones’s Diary, a delightfully frothy British rom-com, in the title role that captured viewers’ hearts—a plucky, single, working-class lass struggling with her career, her weight, her love life and her tendencies to over-indulge in booze and cigarettes. She chronicled it all in her diary.

Film Title: Bridget Jones's Baby

Bridget and the two possible fathers of her baby: American matchmaking website mogul Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey) and British barrister Mark Darcy (Colin Firth)

Now, 15 years down the road, Bridget has moved up—and somewhat on. She’s a producer for a TV news show; she’s managed to corral her figure into something she’s proud to show off. She’s stopped smoking and cut down on the booze. These days she writes on a laptop. But she’s still single, and now more than ever she’s feeling the ticking of her biological clock.

“I’m beginning to think I’ve passed my sexual sell-by date,” she tells one of her co-workers. She refers to her ovaries as “the last barren husks in London.”

But that’s about to change, as you likely surmised by the title of the movie.

Yes, Bridget gets pregnant. But the big question is, who’s the daddy?

Is it her longtime—nearly lifelong—crush, London barrister Mark Darcy (Colin Firth)? Or is it the new American dating-website guru Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey)? As fate would have it, Bridget had “intimate encounters” with them both, just weeks apart. As the old saying goes, when it rains, it pours.

That romantic triangle sets up the sturdy structure of the movie’s comedy, and there are plenty of laughs as Bridget at first tries to keep both Darcy and Qwant in the dark about each other, then resigns herself to telling them both. Original Diary director Sharon Maguire also sets up some hilarious gaffes and snafus in Bridget’s workplace as her personal life begins to intrude—once again—on her career.

Emma Thompson is hilarious as Bridget's no-nonsense OG/GYN.

Emma Thompson is hilarious as Bridget’s no-nonsense OG/GYN.

It’s nice to have the original Diary gang—or most of them—back, including many of the supporting players (like Bridget’s parents and pals). Zellwegger and Firth pick up where they left off, just as their characters do, after more than a decade apart; the absence of Hugh Grant’s caddish Daniel Cleaver, Bridget’s other love from the previous two films, is explained early in the movie, with a dry twist of British wit. Dempsey slides right into his role like a sweet slice of blue-eyed American pie.

And Emma Thompson, who was also one of the screenwriters, shines as a bright comedic charm as Bridget’s no-nonsense OB/GYN. There’s a very cool cameo from Grammy-winning British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran.

So how did Bridget end up here again? The important thing is the little bundle of joy she leaves with two hours later, and the laughter—and the surprises—along the way.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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High Notes

Meryl Streep Gives Moving Musical Performance in ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS

Florence Foster Jenkins
Starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant & Simon Helberg
Directed by Stephen Frears
PG-13

“I’ve got the music in me,” proclaimed singer Kiki Dee in her pumping, thumping Top 20 hit of 1974. “I’ve got the music in me, I’ve got the music in me!”

Some three decades before Kiki Dee, another singer made a similar proclamation, when matronly New York City socialite Florence Foster Jenkins was filled with a lifelong, over-abundant love of music—but a serious lack of talent.

Director Stephen Frears, whose resume also includes The Queen, Philomena and Dangerous Liasons, brings Jenkins’ quirky story to the screen with humor as well as heart, never crossing over into camp or parody in a tale that certainly couldn’t gone there. Meryl Streep has proven she can indeed sing, and quite well—in Mamma Mia!, Into the Woods and Ricki and the Flash—which makes her enthusiastic off-key yelping, peeping and squawking as Florence all the more of a marvel.

After a big-screen, major-role absence of several years, it’s good to see Hugh Grant back. He’s terrific as Florence’s common-law husband, St Clair Bayfield, who loves her dearly and shields her from “mockers and scoffers” by bribing newspaper critics and making sure audiences at her concerts are packed with friends and supporters.

Simon Helberg

Simon Helberg

Simon Helberg (Howard Wolowitz on TV’s The Big Bang Theory) has a major role as Jenkins’ young piano accompanist, Cosme McMoon. At first incredulous at her ineptitude, McMoon later comes—as we do—to admire and respect Jenkins’ childlike innocence and the purity of her desire to share music with others in the “profound communion” of performance.

The movie takes its basic setup—a biopic of a pop-cultural footnote character—and fleshes it out in engrossing detail. We see the tremendous lengths to which Bayfield and others in Florence’s elite social circle go to protect—and enable—her. Florence’s vocal coach uses phrases like “You’ve never sounded better” and “There is no one quite like you” to avoid hurting her feelings and pointing out her clear shortcomings.

Bayfield’s long-term relationship with a mistress (Rebecca Ferguson) is strained by his equal devotion to Florence. “It’s complicated,” he tells McMoon. And indeed it is. We learn the heartbreaking reason Florence and Bayfield never married, never had children and never had a “real” marriage—and how Florence’s doomed first marriage, when she was 18, left her devastated and damaged, in more ways than one.

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINSWe learn of the tragic medical condition—and its toxic treatments—that may have led to some, or many, of Florence’s oddball behaviors, phobias or even delusions.

But mostly we learn of a singer who loved to sing, who had a dream of doing it at Carnegie Hall, and about the unconventional love story at the center of it all.

“They may say I couldn’t sing, but no one can say I didn’t sing,” says Florence toward the end of the film, in a final, parting nod toward her naysayers who refused to see—or hear—the unbridled joy and happiness of her out-of-tune operatics.

“Bravo,” Bayfield replies with a bittersweet smile. And bravo, Meryl Streep, for a moving performance that reminds us that music, like any gift, is one meant to be shared, and that in 1944, Florence Foster Jenkins followed the music “in her.”

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Say ‘U.N.C.L.E.’

Fresh young cast revives Cold War themes of ’60s TV show

D4D_1085.DNG

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander

Directed by Guy Ritchie

PG-13

He wasn’t James Bond, but he was close.

Napoleon Solo was a suave, cosmopolitan American secret agent played by actor Robert Vaughn on the hit NBC TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. from 1964 to 1968. Solo was in fact fashioned by writer consultant Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, to be a small-screen version of his more famous British super-spy.

You don’t have to know that to enjoy this refreshingly retro-fied revival, which takes the name, characters and Cold War setting of the TV show and enhances them to modern-day Hollywood proportions.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

Armie Hammer (left) and Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill (who’ll reprise his 2013 role of Superman in next year’s Batman v Superman) plays Solo, and Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger, The Social Network) is his Russian partner Illya Kuryakin. Rather than just picking up and running with TV characters established half a century ago, the movie wisely starts fresh and anew. (We don’t even hear the code word “U.N.C.L.E” and learn how it spun off from the CIA, the KGB and other international organizations as a separate super-spook division on its own, until the end of the movie.)

We learn backstories and see how Solo and Kuryakin first meet—not as teammates but as enemies, with cloak-and-dagger orders to eliminate each other if necessary, on opposing sides of the ’60s high-stakes political and military standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Their fateful collaboration makes for the fun in writer/director Guy Ritchie’s witty, snappy, stylish yarn spiced and sprinkled with Nazi fascists, Italian playboys, atom bombs, speedboats, femme fatales, fast cars, double crosses, triple crosses, some snazzy old-school spy do-daddery, and gorgeous, eye-popping fashions. It sometimes looks like the cast of Mad Men left their Madison Avenue ad agency and went into dangerous, daring Euro undercover work.

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Alicia Vikander

Alicia Vikander (who drew raves as a sexy robot earlier this year in Ex Machina) portrays the daughter of a brilliant German rocket scientist who’s been abducted and forced to apply his skills toward nefarious ends. She joins Solo and Kuryakin in a race—an “arms race,” to use the Cold War term—to find him.

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Elizabeth Debicki

Elizabeth Debicki is wickedly smooth as Victoria, a svelte, blond “lethal combination of beauty, brains and ambition” whose soft, seductive purr and pouty smile mask a deadly bite. Veteran British actor Hugh Grant makes a welcome impression as Waverly, a character whose motives become clear later in the film.

But the movie belongs to Cavill and Hammer, who seem to really enjoy playing off each other in two very different roles: Solo, the ultra-cool, unflappable ladies’ man who can steal almost anything, and Kuryakin, a towering Slavic hunk whose twitchy temper makes his bare hands lethal weapons—and who has trouble stealing even a single kiss. Their banter, comic bickering and constant bouts of spy-vs-spy one-upmanship keep the movie moving along crisply.

There are certainly louder, flashier, bigger spy flicks. If you’re dying for Bond, you’ll get your fix in November with Spectre. But for a classy, sassy bit of cool, Kennedy-era espionage hijinks, this new, revived Man From U.N.C.L.E. certainly delivers plenty of fresh, fun spy kicks—and hints at more to come.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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