At the beginning of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, our chubby heroine gushes about her perfect relationship with her perfect boyfriend and declares with perfect confidence, “Bridget Jones is a love pariah no more!” Lucky for us, that doesn’t mean she’s no longer awkward, paranoid, or obsessive. To Bridget, happiness and heartache are equal causes for alarm, with romantic bliss being as potentially catastrophic as a pint of Chunky Monkey in the icebox.
Based on Helen Fielding’s novel of the same name, this uneven sequel to Bridget Jones’s Diary kicks off with Bridget (Renée Zellweger) swooning over her six-week courtship with Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), the heavenly human-rights lawyer she started dating at the end of the first film. The 33-year-old Bridget is beginning a fresh diary for what she naturally expects to be a brilliant year, one in which her career in TV journalism takes off and “boyfriend” replaces “fuckwit” as her favorite word. As director Beeban Kidron, taking the franchise’s reins from Sharon Maguire, expresses the couple’s love with a corny Sound of Music sendup, Bridget sighs, “I found my happy ending!”
Except, of course, she hasn’t. Bridget’s fairy-tale plans begin to unravel when she’s warned about Rebecca (Jacinda Barrett), a gorgeous young intern who spends an inordinate amount of time by Darcy’s side. (“With legs up to here!” Bridget whines to her friends. “My legs only go up to there!”) Her crazed jealousy, crash-and-burn faux pas, and belief that the v. conservative Darcy would rather “find someone in the VIP room who’s so perfect you don’t have to fix her” naturally torpedo the relationship. Further complicating things is the reappearance of Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), the handsome, clever cad who toyed with Bridget’s heart in the first film and is now successfully hosting her station’s new travel show.
Scripted by Fielding with help from Wimbledon vet Adam Brooks and Diary screenwriters Andrew Davies and Richard Curtis, The Edge of Reason might seem a shrewd sequel indeed. Our lovable protagonist is still fending off uncomfortable questions from friends and family (“Bridget, do you want to get married and have babies before you’re barren or what?”), the new story line is perfectly reasonable, and even the bad guy is back in a believable position of power. Surprisingly, the only miscalculation is the filmmakers’ making Bridget a bit less of an Everywoman: The Edge of Reason veers too often toward big-budget, big-personality wackiness, with Bridget seemingly trying things such as skiing and ’shrooms just because the plumped Zellweger would look funny doing so.
The thing is, she does. The actress, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Diary, is entertainingly hopeless whether performing the mild slapstick of climbing stairs in a girdle or skulking around her flat wrapped in a comforter, lamenting her breakup, and noting that her current weight is “4,000 pounds.” In either case, her physicality is convincing and pitch-perfect, exaggerated ever so slightly for the sake of comedy. It helps, too, that Fielding & Co. somehow seem to make every misstep lead to a reward: The stock scene in which a devastated Bridget gazes out her window while a ballad plays, for example, earns a laugh when every single window in her neighborhood of high-rises frames a silhouetted couple. Ditto for Grant’s deadpan slickness, which makes even his recycled heat-of-the-moment whisper of “Oh God, please be wearing the giant panties!” pay off.
If only there weren’t the odd plot turn that lands Bridget in a Thai prison, where, surrounded by a couple of dozen female prisoners, she does what comes naturally and begins to complain about her relationships. Her cellmates talk about physical abuse and prostitution, then ask, “What did your bad boyfriend do?” Surely Bridget could have learned the same lesson in a less melodramatic way—and, for that matter, closer to home. But then we would never get the scene in which Daniel, who ignored Bridget as Thai airport authorities held her for questioning, and Darcy fountain-wrestle to the Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” And they look awfully funny doing so.
Though The Edge of Reason’s sporadic charms should be discernible to anyone unfamiliar with the movie’s literary origins, The Polar Express seems pitched to those already in love with its weird but hardly wonderful holiday story. Indeed, this fable about believing in Christmas magic is likely to be embraced only by sentimental Gen Y–ers and toddlers who find Teletubbies sufficiently entertaining.
Based on the 1985 children’s book by author and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg, co-written and directed by Robert Zemeckis, and executive-produced by Tom Hanks, The Polar Express is notable for its “performance-capture” animation, which digitizes the movements of live actors. This party trick may offer a bit more nuance in terms of the characters’ body language—though really, was this considered a serious problem in cartooning?—but in the process all facial subtlety is lost. Ironically, the film’s attempt to make its humans as realistic as its gorgeous scenery results in characters whose dead-eyed freakiness skirts Oompa Loompa territory.
Along with co-scripter William Broyles Jr., Zemeckis expands Allsburg’s brief story into a 100-minute feature, taking some liberties with the book’s plot line but staying true to both its message and Allsburg’s illustrations. When the film opens, it’s near midnight on Christmas Eve and a nameless child—credited to “voice performer” Daryl Sabara, “additional child performer” Josh Hutcherson, and Hanks, who plays six characters in all—is awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus, who he’s fairly certain won’t show. Soon, a commotion of bright lights and mysterious bluster appears outside his window; the boy, in natty PJs and robe, goes out to find a locomotive parked on the street. A terse conductor (Hanks) tells him that the train is headed to the North Pole and that, given his abominable lack of effort to get in touch with Santa this year, he’d better get on.
Other children who have been picked up by the train include the outgoing Hero Girl (Nona Gaye), the Urkelesque Know-It-All (Eddie Deezen), and Lonely Boy (Peter Scolari), a poor kid in a raggedy dressing gown who had to be fetched from “the other side of the tracks.” Not a whole lot happens on the ride North, but its few jazzier moments are inarguably weird: The kids are served hot chocolate during an assaultlike musical number in which chefs somersault and waiters dance, stone-faced, down the aisle; Hero Boy keeps running into a prickly and seemingly phantom hobo whose cryptic conversation adds nothing to the story; and Hero Girl and Lonely Boy hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes as they sing a Broadway-style ballad—apparently what passes for emotion in the animated version of Zemeckis Land.
The Polar Express isn’t completely flat, however. A fascinating sequence similar to the extended chain-of-events trailer for Ice Age quietly shows the fate of a ticket that flies out the train’s window but eventually makes its way back, soaring through the inky night over wolves and rapids, being carried by an eagle, and even ending up in the beak of a baby bird. But what should be the most exciting part of The Polar Express ends up being its most disturbing: The North Pole is presented as a place that’s brightly colored but nearly abandoned, with cheery Christmas music echoing through empty toy factories as the elves gather en masse to cheer, cultlike, the decidedly noncuddly Santa’s takeoff. From scarily muscular reindeer that seem the size of Trojan horses to Lonely Boy’s rather unnatural confession that “Christmas just doesn’t work out for me. Never has,” this wannabe-magical last chapter is oddly sinister.
But at least it’s consistent with the rest of the film: Whether it’s Hero Boy’s essential kidnapping, or the fact that none of the characters show warmth, or that Santa’s Workshop has all the spirit of a gulag, this tale of holiday cheer never feels terribly cheery—the message ultimately offered, in fact, seems to be that Hero Boy had better believe, or else. When Hero Girl gushes, “It’s everything I dreamed it would be!” it’s just one more movie moment that feels completely out of place on-screen.CP