Bridget Jones and Blair Witch deliver after a long hiatus
In recent years, there have been funny films about women yearning for respect (as cops or spies), fleeing hitmen, or trying to make it to the top in big business. What we have not seen too many of are movies about women seeking love. Hollywood has declared the romantic comedy dead.
Bridget Jones's Baby (NC16, 123 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3.5/5 stars) comes from a time before studio executives declared rom-coms unbankable. Literally. This movie was supposed to have been made years ago, but script problems and star Renee Zellweger's five-year break from show business put the project on ice.
In fact, the disappearance of Hugh Grant, who as the ne'er-do-well Daniel Cleaver formed one corner of the love triangle in the previous two Bridget Jones films, is a side-effect of the script turmoil.
The foil to the repressed but eminently suitable Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) is now American actor Patrick Dempsey, who plays Jack Qwant, a love cynic who has nonetheless created a successful dating app.
Bridget (Zellweger) is 43 and alone. A friend tells her to freeze her eggs. She says it's too late because "they are probably hard-boiled by now".
But chance encounters with the freshly divorced Darcy (Firth) and Qwant (Dempsey) result in her getting pregnant. She leads each man to believe he is the father; and in doing their fatherly duties, both fall in love with her.
This is an unabashed fairy tale. But as wish-fulfilment fantasies go, it has more than a few funny moments and makes the effort to ground itself in reality.
Jones is a television news producer beloved by her colleagues, but she lives in a tiny flat and celebrates her birthday at home with booze and ice cream. She is chased by two middle-aged dreamboats - one is a human rights lawyer and the other a fabulously rich entrepreneur - but she cannot quite get her act together as a fully functioning adult.
But the best jokes come from other players, including Emma Thompson as the no-nonsense obstetrician (she is also credited as a co-writer).
Sharon Maguire, who helmed the first movie Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), returns to direct. She keeps the same light hand on the jokes, but without Grant's deliciously despicable Cleaver, she fights an uphill battle.
Dempsey provides eye candy for the soccer-mum set, but he is no Grant. Without Cleaver, the story loses the drive that only a villain can provide.
Like the Bridget Jones movie, Blair Witch (NC16, 89 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3.5/5 stars) is a franchise work that popped out after a long hiatus.
In 1999, The Blair Witch Project was an indie work of horror that crushed the box office. It also launched the era of the found-footage movie and made shaky cameras acceptable, two of the worst trends to happen to the cinema-going experience since mobile phones and superhero movies more than two hours in length.
The second movie (2000's Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2) was awful.
This new movie, based on the invented history of an 18th-century woman cast out and left to die in the Maryland woods, is not. It is, in fact, scary in the best possible way.
That this movie works is more remarkable given that it is a bigger-budget reboot of the first movie. As in the first film, a group of young adults go into the woods to shoot a documentary. Tents shake, stick figures are found at the campsite and screams are heard in the distance.
This time, however, the teenagers think they have 21st-century technology on their side. They have a quadcopter drone, GPS and sensors, but as the horror genre tells us, pride goes before each stomach-churning fall. The cast of unknowns do a fine job, though, admittedly, their job is to die in dramatic ways.
Director Adam Wingard has made acclaimed horror short films for most of his career and knows that the thing sensed out of the corner of the eye is the scariest thing of all.
The first two acts are slow-burn survival dramas, then a shift happens that throws the characters into a hellscape of claustrophobia and shadows. It is the best, most terrifying climax to a horror movie in a long time.
Wild Oats (PG13, 92 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2.5/5 stars) is a well-intentioned comedy starring good, extremely likeable veteran actors, all of whom deserve a much sharper screenplay.
The vivacious Maddie (Jessica Lange) and the shy Eva (Shirley MacLaine) are best pals. A mistake is made with an insurance payout, giving Eva a much-deserved but illegal windfall. She and Maddie wonder if they should return the money or blow it all on an expensive holiday. Their decision is obvious; it is hard to imagine a comedy arising from her picking the moral option.
Light on jokes, plot and snappy dialogue, the movie aims to be a gentle, unambitious romp about spending time in the company of actors you love. It achieves that goal. But the two women at the front deserve to be in something more than the film equivalent of a cup of hot cocoa.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2016, with the headline 'A break for the better'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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