It’s been 13 years, but bumping into Bridget Jones again is like time standing still. It instantly reminds you how much you relish her undeterred optimism, her ingratiating clumsiness, her charming penchant for self-deprecation and her knack for always saying the worst thing at the right time. It also pleasantly reminds how much we’ve missed her oft-maligned but deeply talented alter-ego, Renee Zellweger.
So, how great is it to see them together? And see them representing a vastly underserved element of moviegoers in the smart, enjoyable and very British rom-com “Bridget Jones’s Baby?” If nothing else, it makes you forget that falling out we had with Bridget in 2003’s “The Edge of Reason.” It’s all bygones in the wake of a sequel that not only revives Bridget’s romantic conflagrations, but also finds the now 43-year-old singleton preggers. (Drat! Those leaky Dolphin-brand condoms … Who knew their expiration date was real?)
Of course, she hasn’t the foggiest about the daddy’s identity, although she’s narrowed it down to two rich, virile suitors: The incomparable — albeit a bit stuffy — barrister Mark Darcy (an always terrific Colin Firth) and multi-millionaire Yank entrepreneur Jack Qwant (handsome-but-bland Patrick Dempsey). Darcy we know well. But we don’t know jack about Jack, and neither does Bridget, who happens to wander into his tent at a weekend music festival where they tickle ivories without bothering to catch each other’s name. Turns out he’s the world’s foremost expert on the algorithm method of pairing up singletons. And it’s made him a fortune.
In essence he’s the replacement for Hugh Grant’s Daniel Cleaver, the sexual-harassing boss who famously got into Bridget’s “enormous panties” many times over. Grant allegedly didn’t like the script and opted out. Director Sharon Maguire (back for the first time since helming “Bridget Jones’s Diary”) responds by killing Daniel off. Well, sort of. We’re told his body has yet to be found. But that doesn’t stop Daniel’s kin from holding a memorial service attended by all his “teenage model” conquests. Bridget, now a successful TV news producer, is there, too. And so is her gallant Mr. Darcy, now unhappily married and making eyes across the pews at a svelte, more confident Bridget, whom he hasn’t seen in 10 years. A few cocktails and one night of passion later, Bridget is peeing on a stick. And it’s positive.
So is the movie, which sleekly avoids the worst instincts of rom-coms by putting Mark and Jack on equal footing in the Bridget sweepstakes. No matter who’s the daddy, it won’t affect how Bridget’s heart sways, just as long as the winner loves the baby as his own. It’s a tact that deepens your investment in the characters, one — or both — of whom is going to be crushed when the DNA test results finally come in. It also makes for a plethora of comedic opportunities, as the two men come together to flit and pamper Bridget to the point of embarrassment in attempting to prove who will make the better baby daddy.
Firth is by far the funnier of the two men, still having a ball discovering new things about a character he’s played twice before. Darcy is as dashing as he is hopelessly anal, yet Firth never fails to portray him as empathically human beneath the powdered wigs and finely tailored suits. He’s the quintessential lovable prig. He’s also generous to Dempsey, leaving enough room so as not to show up his less talented counterpart. It’s good for Dempsey, and it’s good for a movie that also benefits immeasurably from the presence of returning stars Shirley Henderson as Bridget’s foul-mouthed buddy, Jude; Jim Broadbent as Bridget’s sweet, adorable dad; and Gemma Jones as her dotty, suddenly politically active mother.
The rampant scene-stealer, though, is newcomer Emma Thompson as Bridget’s funny, sarcastic baby doc who’s seen it all, and possibly seen it too many times. Thompson also shares screenwriting credits with Dan Mazer and Helen Fielding, whose novels normally serve as the source material for the “Bridget Jones” movies. But not this time. “Baby” is the first entry not to be culled from one of her books. Perhaps that’s why it holds together so much better than the previous two films, which tried too hard to appease her hardcover fans. Here, Fielding and company enjoy complete autonomy in taking the story wherever they care to go. The result is a freewheeling, somewhat episodic goof on the pitfalls and pratfalls of being pregnant in your 40s. And while the script could have stood a little trimming and some less obvious plotting, it flows nicely. Even better, it gives people over 30 a movie that speaks directly to them, whether they’re late-in-life parents or, like Bridget, successful professionals being pushed aside and disrespected by younger, clueless managers who value man buns and Kitler videos more than substance.
You know, like Hollywood executives. Yet this time, an older-skewing, more cerebral comedy like “Bridget Jones’s Baby” somehow got past their prophylactic red light. And what an unexpected bundle of joy we have to show for it.
“Bridget Jones’s Baby”
Cast includes Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey, Emma Thompson, Jim Broadbent and Shirley Henderson.
(R for language, sex references and some nudity.)