Review by Rob Vaux
Hollywood has always thrived as a purveyor of comfort food, and comfort food can come in a surprising number of flavors. So the prospect of a third Bridget Jones movie should be neither a cause for concern nor a surrender to the inevitability of unnecessary sequels. In fact, the third outing for everyone’s semi-favorite semi-single Englishwoman represents a big step up from the moribund The Edge of Reason – less a movie in itself than a victory lap – and more of a testament to how likeable and endearing these characters can be.
Renee Zellweger has been out of the game for a few years, garnering headlines for problems that have comparatively little to do with her and more to do with the appalling way we continue to treat women in the spotlight. Here, she reminds us of why a third Bridget Jones movie is not only viable, but actually welcome in many ways: simply put, she’s very, very good at playing Bridget Jones.
Certainly, we’re not here to see anything new or different. Once again, Zellweger must choose between two aspiring beaus: her perennial paramour Darcy (Colin Firth, who is required by public fiat to play any character named Darcy forever and ever in perpetuity amen) and up-and-coming silver fox Jack (Patrick Dempsey). Darcy’s out of the picture when the film begins, following a painful break-up hinted at in various flashbacks. But the flame still flickers in the both of them, even after an all-night marathon session with Jack at another of Ms. Jones’s outings-gone-wrong, and the subsequent attraction results in a second roll in the hay with Mr. D just a few days later.
That sets up the film’s less-than-subtle dilemma. Jones finds herself in the family way, without knowing which one is the father and – in typical Bridget Jones fashion – completely botching any efforts to narrow it down. It avoids contrivance by sticking resolutely to the character’s inadvertent awkwardness, making it an endearing expression of her personality instead of a forced dilemma required to justify the plot.
It helps that the who-will-she-choose question gets set up as a genuine horse race too. The earlier films (especially the second one) suffered from Hugh Grant’s status as a thinly disguised cad. This one plays up Darcy’s well-established workaholic traits, as well as his nonexistent sense of humor, while portraying Jack as genuinely selfless and caring. It gives the central issue some narrative heft and lets Bridget’s pregnancy avoid the perils of undue familiarity.
Bridget Jones’s Baby also benefits from the series’ main inspiration: the average Englishman’s paralytic fear of embarrassment, and what happens when their every effort to appear poised and dignified goes right out the window. Zellweger has a knack for physical comedy and her pratfalls have the right combination of humor and sympathy to garner plenty of laughs. Firth, too, can deliver looks of constipated horror that never fail to amuse, while Dempsey just has to be Peter Perfect and let his costars bounce off of him.
That gives the formula enough energy and raises enough questions about the outcome to let the comedy play out naturally. It’s not high art, but it never aspires to be, content instead to set Bridget’s suitors stumbling against each other while she tries to pull herself together to see it all through. She gets a big boost from Emma Thompson as her snarky OB/GYN (and if the prospect of Emma Thompson playing a snarky OB/GYN doesn’t get you into the theater, there’s no help for you), and from director Sharon Maguire, who directed the marvelous first film. (It’s encouraging to see a number of women’s names behind the camera as well.) The biggest stumble occurs early, with a nasty line about how much weight Jones has lost, but beyond that, the film knows where it wants to go and has a grand time ensuring that we get there in style.
Much has already been made this year about the presence of women in film, and the systematic misogyny still holding them back decades after such foolishness should have been laid to rest. Bridget Jones’s Baby won’t silence the critics on either side, but it’s not designed to. This is a hug from an old friend, one we haven’t seen in a while and who, as it turns out, some of us have missed more than we’d anticipated. In the dead of September, a few smiles from such figures and an invigorated revision of their story won’t steer you too far wrong.