Sunday, August 3, 2008

I'm eating Branston Pickle out of a jar metaphorically

In Bridget Jones Diary, there's a point when Bridget (Renee Zellwiger) hits rock bottom. She's lost Daniel Cleaver, her parents have split and Mark Darcy whom she hated but was inexplicably chasing her, stops trying and goes off to America. Suddenly she realizes what she lost and her sadness is expressed in a predictable montage featuring 60s soul music and scenes of Bridget moping. In one telling shot she's wearing what looks like a duvet and is eating Branston Pickle out of a jar with a spoon. (For non-anglophiles, Branston Pickle a sandwich filling that tastes a bit like chutney and is definitely not meant to be eaten on it's own.)

That's me this week. Heading into week three of summer cold hell and I'm watching Bridget Jones Diary. Sure I've a load of interesting pre-codes to watch and then there's Gregory Peck day on Summer under the Stars, but I find myself rather enjoying this not very good film, which I've seen several times before. So cue the Supremes and allow me to wallow a little.

Colin Firth reprises his star-making role of Darcy, this time playing a supposedly modernized version of the character for this adaptation of Helen Fielding's updating of Pride and Prejudice. I say supposedly modernized because, everything else about the movie feels modern except for Firth's Darcy. He swears once and appears to be handy in the kitchen, but those concessions hardly make up for the fact that when he calls his nemesis Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) out in the street to fight, one does not even chuckle at Cleaver's suggestion of swords or pistols. Fielding's novel takes post-modern to glorious new heights by having a character who is at once infatuated with the screen Darcy as portrayed by Firth in the 1995 mini series adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in all his wet-shirted glory, and yet so dense as to not see the real life Darcy in her life for what he is. It works in the novel as Bridget's voice is so convincingly in control of the book that we go along with her ill-conceived prejudice against the reindeer jumper wearing barister, Mark Darcy. In the film though, it's impossible to mask the obvious charm of Colin Firth. Even in a reindeer jumper he looks at least as good he did in the famous wet shirt scene from Pride and Prejudice. He makes the words "turkey curry buffet" sound alarmingly appealing. That Bridget is blind and deaf to this and prefers instead to go off with obviously oily, (but sexy and funny) Daniel Cleaver, leads us to wonder if she isn't completely bonkers.

Firth in his star-making role as Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, the famous wet shirt, (not in the novel, of course) made Firth a household name in England. The next year, Fielding helped immortalize the moment in pop culture by making it part of the backdrop of Bridget Jones Diary.

The book triumphs in bringing Bridget face to face with Colin Firth in an interview for a newspaper. In one of the funniest passages I've ever read in any novel, Fielding presents a supposed transcript of the interview, a meeting which had only one pre-cursor: don't mention the wet shirt. What follows is six pages of Bridget talking about the wet shirt interspersed with the confused and angered reactions of Firth. Since the producers of the movie had Colin Firth also play Mark Darcy, they couldn't very well have him play himself in an interview. Instead Bridget is made into a television presenter who interviews one of Mr. Darcy's client in a manner that's so refreshingly guileless that she wins the hearts (and perhaps pity of?) her viewers.

In Austen's novel Darcy and his nemesis have their conflict off-stage. Darcy catches up with the blackgaurd and forces him to do the right thing by the heroine's sister. The 1995 miniseries dramatized this famously absent scenario with lots of scenes of Firth as Darcy, looking decisive and riding round the country side. Fielding dramatizes the conflict between Darcy and Cleaver by the most hilariously awkward fight sequence in film history.(The follow-up in Bridget Jones II was a worthy successor and the only bright spot in an otherwise painful and miserable movie). Firth and Grant convincingly play two guys who’ve never been in a fight before, or at least not for a very long time.They pull at one another clothes ineffectually as if they are trying to get busy rather than beat each other to a pulp.At the height of the sequence, the action is interrupted by a birthday celebration in a Greek restaurant and Darcy and Cleaver pause to do the polite thing (they are English after all) and join in a chorus of “Happy Birthday.”

Bridget Jones wraps up predictably with Darcy returning on a perfectly romantic snowy evening. The pair kiss in the street- a fine, romantic, funny scene, somewhat ruined by cutting to a car full of Bridget's friends who look on, making rude comments. It seems that in modern movies viewers are expected to suspend disbelief for all manner of nonsense, except to believe that people could kiss in public without causing a near riot. In Bridget Jones we accept that an American movie star who is a few pounds over the broom handle requirements of Hollywood is a mince pie devouring Londoner. We do, because Zellwiger's accent is nearly perfect and because clever costume designers manage to put her in the Earth's most unflattering attire. We also buy that the kind, honest and attractive professional would go for Bridget the disaster on wheels. We do because Firth is so good at playing the repressed man who has gotten everything in life, but seems never to have had any fun, ever. Bridget's appeal is in her ability to let loose and enjoy herself.

There now. I feel a bit better. Cue Aretha's "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" and lets see what the Tivo grabbed of Gregory this morning.


AbbyNormal said...
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AbbyNormal said...

Ok - I fully admit this is one of my most secret and treasured guilty pleasures. Having seen both the mini-series and Bridget Jones, I would say that the mini-series is like a Thanksgiving dinner. Really good for the soul and very satisfying on all levels. However, Bridget Jones is like that luscious chocolate cake slice you snuck from the kitchen at midnight and devoured in secret loving every bite ... but hoping no one finds out.

I can't say enough about turning the brain off and enjoying the fabulous frolic of fun that is Bridge Jones.

But please, don't tell anyone I told you that.