2 October 2013 | blanche-2
The Bridge family, very much of their time and times to come
"Mr. and Mrs. Bridge," directed by James Ivory, from 1990, is the story of one American family that represents many of that era, showing them in the period of 1937 until just after the war.
The Bridge family is upper middle class. Walter and India (Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward) have three children: the aspiring actress Ruth (Kyra Sedgwick, so young you can't believe it); Carolyn (Margaret Welsh), and Douglas (Robert Sean Leonard, another baby face). Walter Bridge is a conservative man, one who can't and doesn't show his feelings, an excellent businessman, by the book, and seen today, very old-fashioned, almost Victorian in his attitudes. He loves and respects his wife. India is a sweet, naive woman who doesn't know much of the world, but is exposed to it through her high-strung, independent-thinking friend (Blythe Danner) and her art classes. India takes her husband's opinions and does what he wants. The few times she puts forth other ideas, she is shot down and accepts what he says.
When it comes to their children, both of them are out of it. Walter is a fair man, and when Ruth wants to go to New York, he allows it under certain conditions; when Carolyn wants to marry someone beneath their class, he hears the young man out and gives his blessing; and when Douglas wants to join the Air Force, he counsels his son to stick with his education until he's drafted.
This doesn't mean that Walter and India know anything about their children's' private lives or the sex they're having. Walter is far too rigid to consider such a thing, and India is too naive.
This is certainly a picture of a different time, where the older generation didn't give their emotions much play, when women went to lunch, took art classes, and everything they did revolved around their husbands, and when the man's word was law. Yet we can see the beginnings of change around the edges in their children's' lives of what's coming.
The acting is marvelous, particularly from Paul Newman, who at 65 was still gloriously handsome; and from Blythe Danner, who belonged, perhaps, in a bigger city than Kansas City and among a more liberal crowd. I see where Joanne Woodward's performance has been criticized here; some of it, I gather, was because of her age and also because the character says some things considered out of character as compared to the books on which the film is based. Still, she has the sweetness, the caring, and displays the narrow thought of the character.
If the film is slow, it's because of the time period in which the film is set. You sat in the living room in the evening and listened to Nelson Eddy on the radio; you went to see A Star is Born with Janet Gaynor and Frederic March; it was a more leisurely life and a quieter one. Interestingly, it was a time period in which great self-analysis and deep thought could have emerged, but it wouldn't be until after the war that psychiatry (compared to astrology by Walter), women in the workplace, and changes in morality came into vogue.
Today we live so differently - it wasn't all it was cracked up to be back then, and life today sure isn't all it's cracked up to be now. A film like this does make one long for just a few of the old ways in terms of lifestyle perhaps - the simplicity, the sense of family, but in its repression and views of women, no way.