3.5 stars. Rated R, for frequent profanity and sexual candor, and fleeting nudity
By Derrick Bang
There’s much to enjoy about Bridget Jones’s Baby, starting with the welcome return of both Britain’s favorite “singleton,” and the irrepressible Renée Zellweger, who continues to portray her with such ditzy panache.
|Two very concerned guys — Mark (Colin Firth, left) and Jack (Patrick Dempsey) — a very|
pregnant Bridget (Renée Zellweger) about to pop, and a revolving door: a guaranteed
recipe for falling-down hilarity.
We’ve not seen Bridget on the big screen since 2004’s Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason — a disappointing film based on, let’s face it, creator Helen Fielding’s weakest novel — and we’ve not glimpsed Zellweger since her self-imposed exile in 2010, after a string of flops in quite rapid succession.
It’s nice to visit both again, particularly since this new film gets back to basics, with Bridget’s original director Sharon Maguire once more calling the shots. (Maguire opted out of the aforementioned first sequel. Wise move.)
Zellweger quickly wins our hearts in this film’s opening scene, as a doleful Bridget celebrates her 43rd birthday in her flat, alone, with only a cupcake, a single candle and some questionable music for company. It’s a heartbreaking moment certain to be recognized by anybody forced to mark a holiday or milestone event, while caught between constant companions.
Fortunately, the melancholy tone turns droll when Bridget defiantly clicks to another track and then pulls a Tom Cruise — his air guitar solo, to Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll,” at the beginning of Risky Business — by bopping about to House of Pain’s “Jump Around.”
It must be noted that the cinematic Bridget now inhabits a parallel reality quite distinct from that of her literary counterpart; this must make Fielding’s life interesting, given that she also co-scripted this third big-screen outing, alongside Dan Mazer and Emma Thompson. Mazer is an unexpected choice, given that his other writing credits are mostly for Sacha Baron Cohen burlesques; his touch perhaps explains some of Bridget’s dumber physical pratfalls here. (Falling face-first into a mud puddle? Seriously? Isn’t that, like, 30 years out of fashion?)
Thompson, on the other hand, is well known for her wit and writing prowess, both of which are well suited to Fielding’s tone and Bridget’s sensibilities. Thompson also has a significant supporting role in this frequently arch rom-com, and — surprise — she gets all the best lines. Wait for the corker concerning guys and pubs.
Bridget’s over-the-hill birthday notwithstanding, the story opens on a genuinely glum note, as she attends the funeral of her once-beloved Daniel (which justifies Hugh Grant’s otherwise inexplicable absence). The event gathers all of Bridget’s chums — Shazzer (Sally Phillips), Fergus (Julian Rhind-Tutt), Jude (Shirley Henderson) and Tom (James Callis) — along with the unexpected appearance of our heroine’s other ex: Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), accompanied by wife Camilla (Agni Scott).
Bad scene all around. Fortunately, things look better on the job front: Bridget has risen from the lower end of TV production to helm Hard News, a serious news and public affairs show, where she’s much admired by the staff, and particularly by on-air anchor and close friend Miranda (Sarah Solemani). But even this comfortable environment isn’t destined to last; bean-counting network bosses have just saddled the Hard News team with a snotty young executive producer, Alice Peabody (Kate O’Flynn, appropriately condescending), who — with her team of equally callow, social-media twits — intends to replace actual news with scandal-ridden “exposés” straight out of The Sun and The Mirror.
What’s a depressed girl to do?
Relive youthful hedonism, of course — Miranda’s idea — by attending a weekend Glastonbury-style rock festival, with the primary goal of shagging the first available guy. This entire sequence is dumb, overly broad and ill-conceived: a sidebar as eye-rollingly clumsy as the Thai prison interlude in The Edge of Reason. But it does serve one essential purpose, introducing Bridget to wealthy Internet dating guru Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey).
And they do indeed enjoy a rambunctious shag, after which a sheepish Bridget stealthily sneaks away before having to face Jack the following morning.
Mere days later, circumstances throw her back into the arms of the suddenly unattached Mark. They, too, enjoy a night of connubial bliss (presumably not as rambunctious, given Mark’s stiff-upper-lip reserve). This reunion also remains a one-off, Bridget quite reasonably figuring that their long history of blown opportunities offers little in the way of future stability.
Back to work, then, and trying to keep under the horrid Alice Peabody’s radar. Following which, after the appropriate number of weeks, Bridget realizes that she’s pregnant. (Drat those out-of-date, dolphin-friendly, biodegradable condoms!)
Yep, It’s one of comedy’s surest bets: the question of Who’s Your Daddy?
From this point forward, Maguire’s film is on firmer — and more genuinely funny — ground. Jack and Mark re-enter the narrative, both eventually apprised of the situation’s, ah, uncertainty; Thompson pops up as Bridget’s pre-natal advisor, Dr. Rawlings. She’s a droll, understated stitch, delivering dry one-liners and arch asides that are a sharp counterpoint to Bridget’s flamboyant fluttering and fidgeting.
Firth is equally hilarious as the buttoned-down Darcy, who has advanced from High Court barrister to Supreme Court Queen’s Counsel. Dealing with Bridget’s wild emotional swings always has been difficult for the properly detached Mark, who inhabits a world of order, establishment and conservative propriety; having to handle competition from the smug, oh-so-perfect Jack — who, horror of horrors, is an American — is beyond the pale.
Actually, Mark has even more trouble attempting to defend, in court, the vulgar antics of a Russian ultra-feminist punk band (a situation clearly modeled on 2012’s Pussy Riot controversy). Firth’s herculean struggles to remain blandly professional, surrounded by these crude young women, are to die for.
Dempsey’s Jack is amusing in entirely different directions: a holistic, health-conscious computer geek who is supremely proud of having developed the ultimate “dating algorithm,” which indicates that he and Bridget have a 97 percent chance of success as a couple. Jack is brash, spontaneous and keen to enter Bridget’s life, having the money to substantially elevate her always challenging economic status. No question: Dempsey is charming.
What’s an overwhelmed girl to do?
Additional comic support comes from Jim Broadbent and Gemma Jones, as Bridget’s devoted parents; a minor subplot involves the latter’s run for a local political office, and the “family values” platform that might be jeopardized by Bridget’s, um, “circumstances.” Enzo Cilenti also is a hoot as Gianni, who runs “London’s Smallest Italian Restaurant,” conveniently located near Bridget’s flat.
All told, Bridget Jones’ third big-screen adventure won’t win any points for originality, but — the rock festival sequence aside — the film is a lot of fun, with the talented cast ably navigating the beleaguered heroine’s romantic misadventures.
I’m curious to find out, however, how Fielding’s upcoming book — Bridget Jones’ Baby: The Diaries, scheduled for release on Oct. 11 — will slide into the far different continuity already detailed in her previous novel, 2013’s Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy.
Should be interesting. And, of course, quite funny.