On the surface, Bridget Jones’s Baby doesn’t look like a home run. It’s a long-delayed and unexpected third film in a series. The plot is a cheesy, “oh no, who’s the father of my baby?” scenario. And honestly, the life goals of the heroine – find husband and make babies – are pretty chafing to the modern viewer. But to my surprise, Renee Zellweger’s (Leatherheads, Cinderella Man) return as the infamous Bridget Jones is actually really adorable, and filled with genuine laugh-out-loud moments.
I’ve always loved reading diary novels, especially the coming-of-age ones I read as a pre- and early-teen. There’s something so cathartic and fun about them – and Bridget Jones’s Diary was no exception. Although it’s been ages since I read it, I remember both the book and the ensuing film being pretty cute, and infused with that British-ness we Americans love in a rom-com. Bridget Jones’s Baby takes place ten years after the original, and even after all this time, I found myself still able to emotionally invest in her zany, insecure antics.
I think the trifecta that makes the movie work is one of Acting + Writing + Directing. It’s not all-encompassing (especially in the “plot” section) but heavy-hitters in all three sections make even this lighthearted romp something with a bit more substance than expected.
Zellweger is clumsy and painfully awkward, but surprisingly genuine and heartwarming. Bridget blunders almost constantly, but not in the annoying, grating way you so often see in rom-coms. Though she seems so silly on the surface, honestly her romantic struggles are pretty universal. She wants freedom and autonomy and to be able to be happy without a man! But she also loves the warm fuzzies of a relationship, and loves the idea of children and a picket fence someday.
Colin Firth (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The King’s Speech) as Mark Darcy (true to both this character and Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy off which he is based!) is noble and sensitive, but a bit of a workaholic who struggles to communicate his feelings properly. This problem is magnified by his rival and other-potential-baby-daddy, Jack (Patrick Dempsey, Grey’s Anatomy, Enchanted) – the younger, hipper, warm-hearted American mogul who’s made his fortune off a dating website that uses math to predict romantic compatibility.
The true star of the film is Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks, the Harry Potter series), who plays a significant supporting role as Bridget’s dry, sarcastic OB/GYN. Thompson had us laughing out loud constantly – she’s a true veteran with experience on stage, on camera, and behind the camera. In fact, she’s one of the screenwriters who created Bridget Jones’s Baby’s lively script! The story never lags or drags, and Thompson’s elegance and finesse proves a perfect counterbalance to the contributions of her co-writer Dan Mazer. Mazer is one of the chief brains behind racy (but clever) Sacha Baron Cohen projects such as Borat, Bruno and Ali G. And while Bridget Jones is definitely for adults, it never reaches that boundary-pushing level.
Finally, all these elements are subdued and strung joyfully together under the eye of director Sharon Maguire, who directed the original Bridget Jones’s Diary and is a close friend of the novel’s author Helen Fielding. Maguire got me rooting and caring for the characters in a really involved way, even though (hello, rom-com) I knew the ending would be happy and tied-up in a pretty bow somehow.
This is the kind of movie that made me care even when it wasn’t surprising. It made me laugh and even brought a tear to my eye once or twice. It may be a threequel that nobody was particularly clamoring for, but it rises above expectations, and brings back the warmth and quirk that was so memorable in the original novel.