Director: Sharon Maguire
Cast: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey, Sarah Solemani, Emma Thompson
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An early soundtrack shift from All By Myself to House of Pain’s Jump Around strikes a nice chord for Bridget Jones’ Baby, a sequel in which the comedy comes from the characters rather than from a contrived story. Coming 12 years after the poorly received sequel, The Edge Of Reason, this one sees director Sharon Maguire and stars Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth circle back around to the original – without repeating themselves.
15 years after that film, this makes a decent go of dragging Helen Fielding’s perennial singleton into the age of spin classes, clickbait culture and dating sites. Bridget (Zellweger) is now in her 40s and vows to celebrate her single life and focus on herself, after falling out with Mark Darcy (Firth) for the umpteenth time.
However, she discovers she is pregnant, not long after a close encounter with a recently divorced Mark and a music festival meet-cute with dating app entrepreneur Jack Qwant (Dempsey). Her obstetrician, Dr. Rawlings (Thompson), tells her that either one of them could be the dad, but as it may be her last chance to be a mother, Bridget decides to muddle through and finds support from both the old flame and the new boyfriend.
The romantic comedy is all but dead at the moment, compared to its heyday 10 years ago, which makes Bridget Jones’ Baby both an enjoyable throwback and an unusual relic next to cinema’s other big box office hits of 2016. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, nor would any of the series’ fans expect it to, but it’s a daft and likeable confection that usually overcomes its more old-fashioned impulses.
Zellweger knows this role like the back of her hand by now and, although Firth’s Mr. Darcy has matured into something of a British bulldog, it feels like they’ve never been away. The other series regular, Hugh Grant, declined to return for this instalment, which leads to a rare bit of gallows humour, as they kill his Daniel Cleaver off-screen and get the gang (including Bridget’s mates, played by Sally Phillips and Shirley Henderson) back together for his funeral. It sometimes feels like the film’s bloated running time was a side effect of working around his absence and introducing a new character in his place.
Patrick Dempsey ably fills the role of the other man, and the addition of Jack brings fresh perspective to this that might not have been possible if Grant had been brought back for another round of romantic sparring. That said, it does mean that Mark and Jack are the thinnest of characters, with the former defending the civil rights of a Pussy Riot-a-like band in an instantly dated subplot, while the latter’s much bally-hooed dating algorithm appears to have been collated from GCHQ surveillance for the amount of insight it apparently has. Neither of these contrivances come naturally from character and as mentioned, the characters are this film’s biggest comedic strength.
Even if Dempsey doesn’t have a lot to do but smile amiably from the sidelines, the focus on Bridget doesn’t wander off within this new love triangle. By the point at which previous films would typically have erupted into fisticuffs between Mark and Daniel, the film has at least evolved beyond such pettiness, resolving instead in a much funnier bit of slapstick physical comedy that has the two potential dads working together to do what’s best for Bridget. This is a sequel with its priorities in order and it’s much better for it.
The indisputable highlight is Emma Thompson, who also shares a writing credit with Fielding and Dan Mazer. She’s on the audience’s side, practically munching popcorn as she watches Bridget’s various personal calamities, but she’s also invaluable as the voice of reason. It might be because she contributed to the script, but her Dr. Rawlings gets all of the funniest lines, including one spectacular late observation on dads’ experience of labour.
In plenty of other regards, Bridget Jones’ Baby is just as preposterous as the previous instalments, but with Maguire back in the director’s chair and Thompson stealing the show, this is a definite return to form after The Edge Of Reason. It’s full of the same sort of unrecognisable human behaviour that plagues romcoms like this, but it’s light and funny and a little bundle of joy that ought to satisfy all fans.
Bridget Jones’ Baby is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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