Bridget Jones’s Baby
Who’d have thought it? This is not only better than Edge of Reason (hardly a challenge), but also the original Diary itself. The reason to watch has always been Renée Zellweger, and she’s on fine form again here: a truly bizarre casting choice originally, she has made the role entirely her own, despite that overtly artificial accent. Bridget was always endearing because of her flaws, not in spite of them, and so Zellweger’s put-on British mannerisms strangely made the character all the more loveable, an obvious failing to place alongside her minor obesity, accident-prone nature, and terribly self-conscious public speaking. Like Mr. Darcy, we love her just the way she is.
A dozen years have passed since the last movie and we begin with Bridget turning 43. She is still single, so we get the requisite scene of her singing along to ‘All By Myself’. But then, in the first sign that this film will be a bit different, she turns it off and chooses to jump around to ‘Jump Around’ instead. Throughout the film there’s a distinct lightening up in tone this time around, a party atmosphere that dispels the middle-class singleton woes which occasionally bogged down the first two instalments.
So Bridget goes to a music festival, dances to ‘Gangnam Style’ at a christening, and has glorious one-night stands following both events. Even after she becomes pregnant, due to the failure of some dodgy eco condoms, the lightness of tone remains – we see very little of the ailments that carrying another human being inside of you might entail. The running time is better taken up with jokes about the two potential daddies, each one trying to outperform the other in paternal and romantic affection.
They are confidently portrayed, with Patrick Dempsey here replacing Hugh Grant (a sad loss) as Colin Firth’s love rival; he is less caddish and a little more dim, a dating guru who relies on algorithms to explain successful relationships but can’t seem to find one himself. He might not seem like an ideal partner for Bridget but, well, he is a billionaire. And has a ‘big puppet’. So can he replace the reliable, yet regrettably married, Mr. Darcy in her affections? Colin Firth has long been the weak link in this saga, too comfortable to fall back on his stereotypical casting as… Mr. Darcy, the reserved yet sensitive aristocrat with a heart of gold. Here, however, he gets more of a chance to shine, having to prove his comedy chops in scenes with a heavily pregnant Bridget to manhandle, and he has a quieter, subtler romantic rivalry that, because the other fellow is a decent chap, can’t come to fisticuffs in quite the same way as it used to do with Grant.
The film’s a hoot really, and I heartily recommend it even to those who haven’t seen the first two – the gags are strong enough and the performances accomplished enough that no prior knowledge of Bridget’s history is required. I love that the character’s grown up and changed over the years, but only a little, because the filmmakers well know perennial infantilism is a part of her charm. I love the digs at hipster culture (and their beards). Love the strength of the supporting cast, especially the ever-wonderful Jim Broadbent and Emma Thompson, both of whom are… well, wonderful. There’s so much to love, placing it safely up there with Deadpool, Love & Friendship, and Ghostbusters in the premier league of the most entertaining comedies of the year.
My Woman – Angel Olsen
The album format is to Angel Olsen what the diary is to Bridget Jones: a chance to unmitigatedly unspool her relationship and life problems. With bad poetry and minus the comedy. I’ve tried to engage with her melancholic vision on numerous occasions, but unlike Leonard Cohen, with whom she is frequently compared, I can’t detect any warmth, humour or humanity in her writing, which makes her morbid tours of despair hard to care much about. If she doesn’t care about other people, why should we care about her? The music doesn’t help, with Burn Your Fire for No Witness eschewing melody and songcraft in favour of limp acoustic folk constructions. My Woman is certainly an improvement on that front: the first half of the album especially has a little more fire to witness – by which I guess I mean drums and electric guitar. The synth soundscapes on ‘Intern’ conjure up a one-woman Joy Division/New Order atmosphere, a welcome pastiche that raises a smile. ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ and ‘Give it Up’ actually rock a little. Her vocals are pretty compelling on the sneering ‘Not Gonna Kill You’. But then she settles into default mode and on the album’s second half, in which the blossoming relationship she has begun to describe falls apart, the music recoils into itself in an introverted move that reflects Angel Olsen’s nature. Nothing wrong with being introverted, of course, and occasionally it brings out some nice touches: I like the quiet, countryish slide guitar on ‘Woman’, for instance. But I find that the lack of empathy, the ironic disregard for romanticism, and her repressed vocal performance makes the navel-gazing unbearably claustrophobic at times, a little repetitive and more than a little tedious.
This is a competitive time for indie singer-songwriters, with some brilliant young talents emerging: Courtney Barnett, Kate Tempest, Grimes, Withered Hand, and Car Seat Headrest in particular spring to mind, and in order to compete with them Angel Olsen is going to have to considerably up her game. I insist that I’m not being wilfully perverse in suggesting that Bridget Jones can tell us more about modern romance and self-examination than Angel Olsen. At this moment in time, I sincerely believe it.
Shape Shift with Me – Against Me!
Unlike either of the above, when Against Me! tackle romance, they can’t help but imbue it with the fiercely political. So a lyric such as ‘Always starts with a gal or a guy at a bar/And ends in a broken heart’, a simple enough sentiment, is immediately followed with ‘To the last cock you suck, to the last cunt you fuck/I’m forever your girl’, throwing in some gender and sexual nuance to challenge lazy pop music stereotypes. Anyone who knows this band should be aware that their lead singer, Laura Jane Grace, came out as a transgender woman in 2012, an act which has informed everything they’ve released since. 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues was heralded as a new direction for punk, rebelling against its macho underpinnings with a testament of her newfound life as a woman, but I found that it was too defeatist in attitude and suffering from emo bullshit lines like ‘Slit your veins wide open’ and ‘Black me out’ as a reaction to the pain caused by her transition. For a truly transgressive statement, try 2007’s New Wave, a flat-out masterpiece that melds the personal and the political with enormous success and contains the first seeds of Laura’s gender doubts: ‘If I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman… I’d grow up to be strong and beautiful like her’.
Well, now she has grown up to become a strong and beautiful woman, and on Shape Shift with Me she displays the first signs of coming to peace with this and her sexuality. The great subject here is not suicide or depression, but the very essence of life: love. Not in any coy or soppy way, but with a sense of possibility that doesn’t preclude short-term flings: ‘Rebecca, kiss me, but let’s not fall in love’ she sings on my favourite cut, one in which she still wants to be hit ‘like a bus’ by the proposed romantic (or is it just sexual?) encounter. Love is an ever-changing emotion of wide-ranging possibilities in Laura’s eyes, and it ultimately involves seeking out multiple partners and inviting them to try and ‘shape shift with me’.
So, like Bridget Jones in the above film, Laura has finally had enough of feeling sorry for herself and is down for some good old-fashioned sex with a side of love. Which I support wholeheartedly, and I find immensely moving considering the dramatic changes that have taken place recently in her life. But although I can see the joy in the words, I can’t hear it in the music, which follows the usual punky pop progressions yet without the same urgency that has helped them to transcend their simplicity in the past. Some of the performances are confused because although the lyrics are largely optimistic, Laura’s vocals can’t help but sound perennially pissed off, undermining and struggling to represent the contentment she seems to have reached in her life. And, worst of all, the downbeat emo tone of previous albums creeps back in at infrequent yet still irritating intervals, most noticeably in ‘Dead Rats’. Nevertheless, it is a step up from the philosophically muddled Transgender Dysphoria Blues, and leaves me with hope that they can recapture the magic of New Wave again some day.