You can’t turn the clock back

I’ve watched a lot of films over the past 48 hours – five to be exact. All of them had their appeal, but only one of them has been haunting me. Now lying in a strange hotel room in Brisbane, when I should be catching up on sleep after flying half way around the world, flashbacks and snippets from the story keep flooding back… I suppose that means it was a ‘good’ film.

Crunched into an aeroplane seat for more than 24 hours, I found myself watching a string of movies. Faced with so much choice I picked:

  • a cartoon, because I like the music
  • a thriller because the story is clever
  • a comedy because I wanted to smile
  • a family film because I love sailing and the Lake District
  • and finally a film that I thought might be a sort of romantic drama… it wasn’t.

But it was this particular film that has kept me awake since I landed.

‘Manchester by the sea’ caught my eye a few weeks ago when I mused over the poster promoting the film on the station platform. There was a man standing by the water, with boats in the background looking at a girl. That’s a strange title, I’d thought, at the same time saying to myself, but Manchester’s not by the sea! This particular Manchester is a fishing town in America where the story is set. I won’t give away the tale, although it’s nothing complex or particularly mysterious. In fact I almost decided to stop it more than once because it felt quite slow and I wasn’t particularly enjoying it… it’s hard to enjoy watching someone suffer and becoming almost robotic with the pain that’s buried so deeply no one sees it.

When bad things happen and something or someone hurts us, it’s a natural defence to shut up tight like a shell and block out all the painful emotions so that we can’t be hurt anymore. Grief can do that to us and so can loss or rejection. Guilt can also tie us up in internal knots. But grief and guilt together seem to be a cocktail of emotions that have the potential to destroy someone.

I suppose no one would want to watch ‘Manchester by the sea’ if you told them it was all about guilt and grief – it wouldn’t sell cinema tickets. If you do watch it, you may not feel ‘good’, but you will be made to think. The very ordinariness of the story, the day-to-day plain boringness of life from fixing blocked toilets to shopping for food and fishing, is part of what gives this film its power. It’s an honest, down to earth, depiction of what happens to someone after a terrible tragedy…no more than that, after a devastating accident.

We never really know what’s going on behind someone’s expression – their real thoughts and feelings can be completely hidden. And the film shows that the way someone reacts, whether it’s blanking out emotion or picking a fight, can mask internal battles raging just below the surface. It’s what the director has left out that is most effective. The dialogue is sometimes sparse and there are those very real moments when people speak over one another and stumble in trying to say what they mean. There are awkward silences and clumsy hugs for the moments when there simply are no words.

If you do go and watch it – be prepared to be haunted by the face of a man who wishes every day he could turn back the clock and do one thing differently.

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my imperfect Bridget Jones

I’ve had a bit of a love affair with Bridget Jones ever since one night in 2001 when I sat convulsed with laughter near the front of the cinema. Perhaps it was because I didn’t get out a lot due to the difficulty of finding a free night and a babysitter to match, but whatever the reason, I found the film refreshingly funny. It wasn’t just the liberal use of the ‘F’ word and Colin Firth either. It was the heroine. Bridget wasn’t perfect she was hilariously flawed and her obsessions and fears were something I could easily associate with. From her struggles with losing weight and finding a partner to mastering the skills of turning on a microphone, public speaking and riding in a soft top… I’d been there and loved it. The film became a much quoted script that was so versatile, “something to go with anything for any occasion!’ Each time I had to stand up in front of a training session or meeting where there was a speaker system, I was so tempted to tap the mic and shout…”the mic’s not working properly!” On my 40th birthday, such was my love of the film, that my husband shamed me by hanging out a huge pair of knickers on the fairy lights greeting guests to the surprise bash. Thankfully my time as a local reporter had passed so there was no danger of me doing a Bridget down the pole of my local fire station, even if I did have a bottom the size of Brazil! When Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason, or Bridget Jones 2 came out it had lost a little of it’s appeal and freshness, so 15 years on, I was intrigued to see how the latest film, Bridget Jones’ Baby would fair.

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Instead of watching it with an embarrassed husband disappearing into his seat in a cinema full of women, I went on a girls’ night out with fellow military wives to soak up the new Bridget and all she had to offer. Unfortunately, although it was funny, my dreams were shattered. Bridget and Mark Darcy had changed… what had happened? They had got older, more wrinkled and Oh, I don’t know, it was just all wrong. Suddenly, Bridget’s dizzy moments didn’t seem quite as funny third time around and her muddy face plant at Glastonbury not so endearing. As we left the cinema one of the girls googled Renee Zellweger and Colin Firth’s faces from 2001 and we all sighed with relief… so those were the people we knew, not these strange new faces that had appeared on our screen in episode three. For me the producers had waited too long to make this new film and perhaps we should have let Bridget rest where she was, safe in the arms of Colin Firth in her cardigan and knickers in a snowstorm.

One of the disturbing things about my reaction to an ageing Bridget Jones is the fact that I’m even older than the actress who plays her and yet I still feel pretty much 35. So, is my dislike of the new Bridget a sign of my own uneasiness about growing older and coming to terms with all that goes with it? It was Bridget’s imperfections in the first film that made her so endearing and felt like a breath of fresh air from the perfect heroines in many mainstream films. So, if imperfections are Ok, why not the imperfection of ageing too? Perhaps Bridget Jones Baby is a my wake-up call… I’m not going to be 35 forever, but that’s OK isn’t it?