Stuck in its Way
Mr. & Mrs. Bridge (Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward) are what you could call both traditional and conservative, he is a lawyer and she is his faithful wife and together they lead a good life with their three children in pre war America. But as the years pass by and their children grow up, leave the family home and have their own lives, Mr. & Mrs. Bridge struggle with the changing times and attitudes, still holding on to the past.
Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward's "Mr. & Mrs. Bridge" is a curious movie, not in some abstract sense of the word but because basically nothing really happens. Yes being a Merchant Ivory production "Mr. & Mrs. Bridge" is beautiful on the eye and is expectedly well acted but the actual storyline appears to be non existent and rather dull. The crux of it is the Bridge family and the traditional Mr. & Mrs. Bridge who seem stuck in the past as times change and their children grow up leaving the nest. But whilst it embraces the changing periods as we watch their children grow there is no real drama, no real comedy and it feels like it is lacking something to make it interesting.
So as already mentioned "Mr. & Mrs. Bridge" almost feels like it doesn't have a storyline because nothing really happens. Instead we basically follow Mr. & Mrs. Bridge with their traditional attitudes as over the years their children grow up and in doing so have different attitudes to things than their own. And so we have various situations such as Mr. Bridge discovering his eldest child Ruth not only having sex on the living room floor but also wanting to leave to become an actress. Plus there is Mrs. Bridge not only discovering that their son has nudey pictures in his sock draw, leading to her to hand him some archaic book on the birds and bees, but also struggling to stop treating him as a child even when he returns from war. And then there is also a social aspect as their other daughter not only marries someone beneath them but ends up getting a divorce. The thing is that none of it is really interesting as it revolves around Mr. & Mrs. Bridge basically stuck in the past with old fashioned attitudes to the changing world around them.
As such "Mr. & Mrs. Bridge" feels a rather strange movie as if something has been left out, some big dramatic incident which would have given it life. Oh it does have a dramatic incident but one which comes far too late as the movie ends and to be honest it's so restrained that it actually lacks any drama, in fact it's so staid it's in keeping with the unexciting life of Mr & Mrs. Bridge.
The thing is that whilst the actual storyline appears to be lacking an essential ingredient "Mr. & Mrs. Bridge" is actually a beautiful movie. You really don't expect an ugly looking movie from a Merchant Ivory production and the recreation of a pre war America is brilliant with a subtle vibrancy which is eye catching. And as the storyline progresses across several years the change in look and clothing works perfectly to transport you back to this bygone era. But sadly whilst a good looking movie it is not enough to disguise the deficiencies in the storyline.
And on the same note "Mr. & Mrs. Bridge" is also a well acted movie but it's not enough to make up for the important storyline deficiencies. Paul Newman is particularly effective as Mr. Bridge delivering old fashioned restraint to create this character who looks at the way things are changing in a disapproving way whilst also trying to protect his wife from the changing times. At the same time he also creates Mr. Bridge as emotionally cold, as if he married and had children because it was the done thing not because he particularly wanted to although despite the emotional restraint you get a sense that simmering beneath the solid exterior are feelings of love. And Joanne Woodward is Newman's equal especially in the upset manner that she deals with the changing times. The scene where she hands her son the book on the birds and bees is just brilliant and speaks volumes about her character, that she is stuck in her ways and incapable of dealing with anything that doesn't conform to her thinking.
Whilst Newman and Woodward are the stars of "Mr. & Mrs. Bridge" and make it watch able they are assisted by some nice supporting performances especially those of Kyra Sedgwick, Robert Sean Leonard and Margaret Welsh who play their children. Plus Blythe Danner and Simon Callow deliver a welcome touch of eccentricity to provide a small burst of humour.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "Mr. & Mrs. Bridge" may look brilliant and have some wonderful performances it all ends up rather dull because of the very ordinary storyline. At its heart it wants to be a story about how a mother and father are unable to deal with the changing times as their children grow up but nothing in the least bit dramatic, amusing or exciting happens making it all sadly very dull.