The first two Bridget Jones films have not aged particularly well. By and large the humor stems from bodily slapstick where the joke is is that the protagonist is “a little overweight”, when actually she’s just a normal-sized woman who gets in some embarrassing predicaments whilst she tries landing a mate. Everyone calls her “fat” in Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Edge of Reason and Hollywood pats itself on the back for putting a woman on the screen that doesn’t give its audience a faux beauty complex. Like a romantic comedy from an earlier decade, Bridget (played by a slightly plumpier Renée Zellweger) is primarily concerned with being wed before she leaves her thirties so that she doesn’t have to resign herself to a future of dying alone and have her corpse discovered and eaten by dogs.
The third film, Bridget Jones’s Baby, however, is a sprite surprise. By largely removing the quest for shacking up and making not a single chubby joke, Zellweger and the rest of the cast are allowed to engage in some delightfully charming old-fashioned screwball comedy set-ups: in the workplace, in the doctor’s office, on live television and in a hilariously long and struggling “race” to the hospital sequence. As a franchise, this Jones has done more than update from a pen to paper diary to an iPad, it’s embraced its characters to allow them to enliven very funny situations and laid less emphasis on crying to the song “All By Myself”.
As you can probably tell from the title, Bridget is pregnant. But she’s not sure who the father is. It could be the confident All-American man, Jack (Patrick Dempsey), whom she shagged in a yurt after he pulled her from the mud at a music festival. Or it could be the old, tried and true, known-him-all-of-her-life ex, Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth), whom she shagged after they both assumed godparent roles at a child’s baptism.
This follows the template of the last two Jones films, in that there are two men vying for her (the sex-addict lothario from the first two, as played by Hugh Grant, died in a plane crash to kick off the film). But Bridget is less interested in who she’ll end up with and instead is more concerned with who she’s potentially hurting by giving them the news that one is the father and the other isn’t. Both men decide to assist during the stages of her pregnancy and the other will step aside when the parentage is known. Dempsey, who played “Doctor McDreamy” on several seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, is almost too McDreamy, here; he’s ready to skip a whole relationship and get straight to parenting. Jack proves to be the attentive go-getter and Mr. Darcy is the workaholic who’s always just a few steps behind, but he’s there and willing nonetheless.
What makes Jones’s Baby really work is that director Sharon Maguire and screenwriters Helen Fielding (the author of the book series, though this one is an original script without a book), Dan Mazar and Emma Thompson create an environment where Jones is no longer the butt of jokes, but instead involved in humorous situations involve others. This isn’t Preston Sturges, but there’s definitely the heartbeat of an old school screwball comedy at work here. At Jones’ work, as a segment producer for a news program, she occasionally inadvertently feeds her host and best friend (Sarah Solemani) the wrong lines generating rather amusing live interviews. And Jack embraces the assumption in pregnancy classes that he and Mr. Darcy are gay lovers and Bridget is their surrogate mother.
In the smaller patches, there’s a rather pleasant avoidance of youthful militancy. Bridget’s new boss (Kate O’Flynn) is young, hip, and angry (she wants content like “Will Your Freezer Give You Alzheimer’s?”). Mr. Darcy is currently litigating the freedom of speech for a Pussy Riot-inspired band called Poonani. And during the race to the hospital sequence the streets have been blocked off by a protest against patriarchy. Maguire introduces little scenarios of how the think-piece modern world could easily brush up against Bridget (and the franchise) and then she has Mr. Darcy and Jack run her in the opposite direction of that potential noise as the knights in shining armor. Bridget Jones, the franchise, only needs to age with the times ever so slightly, but her character doesn’t need to become something she’s not. And acknowledging and skirting the youthful dismissal of these films is done with rather nimble footwork in quite funny scenarios.
Now, speaking of think pieces, let’s get something out of the way. Folks have been writing silly posts about Zellweger’s appearance and whether or not that would take them out of the movie, or intense rebuttals of how she should not be shamed for looking different. Yes, Zellweger doesn’t look like the same Bridget. She shouldn’t! It’s been 15 years. In fact, neither does Firth as Mr. Darcy. And they’re both fresher, too. To be frank, they’ve aged well as characters. Zellweger’s Bridget is more confident here. And Firth’s Darcy was always a man who we were supposed to see as Bridget does, as brilliant and perfect, but mostly he just stood up straight and looked at Jones’ more boisterous behavior with expressions of near horror. Their romance didn’t make much sense outside of the fact that he occasionally says nice things at the exact moment when Jones is at her wits end. Here, he’s involved in the joke more (at the labor classes; with Jones’s doctor, played by co-screenwriter and Oscar-winner Emma Thompson) and allowed to do much more than just react.
I’m sure that many of you just skim a little and scroll to the bottom of a review to see a rating, so perhaps this seems low with the above huzzahs. Well, I’m putting the best foot of the film forward because Jones’s Baby is a pleasant surprise and definitely one of the better sequels of the year. However, it has some bloated sequel problems in that the first 30 minutes or so are just tying up 12 years of loose ends, and then it has to set up the wacky premise and introduce a new man in her life (the music festival section is more of a miss than hit). It doesn’t really settle into the groove of allowing all the actors to engage in the screwball scenarios until a lot of plotting has been nailed down.
Additionally, Dempsey is too eager to be believable (perhaps making up for the fact that regardless of who the father turns out to be, he doesn’t stand a chance against Mr. Darcy); his Jack really does seem to be dropped from the heavens, whereas Mr. Darcy does show flaws. And, this being a broad romantic comedy, the finale does of course shift to a wedding for someone by the end. In these bookended sections the comedy doesn’t really land and there are some cringe-worthy moments, but like a jelly donut once you get past the flaky crust, it’s the center that is enjoyable and gives a sugar rush. And the physical humor in the rush to get to the delivery room is worth the price of admission itself.
Bridget Jones’s Baby is in theaters September 16