So then. Bridget Jones’ Baby…
The latest film in the Bridget Jones franchise has one feature that leaves a particularly bad smell in the air. Gently advising Mark Darcy and Jack Qwant — each of whom could be the father of Bridget’s imminent baby (you don’t need a spoiler warning, the film is called Bridget Jones’ Baby) — Emma Thompson says in her capacity as an obstetrician that the pair might not wish to be at the coalface as the baby emerges: “My ex-husband said it was like watching his favourite pub burn down.”
This is a popular line, and one of the film’s funniest moments. But there is a problem with the quip: the scriptwriters didn’t write it. Robbie Williams said it on The Graham Norton Show in 2013. He said it while Thompson, one of the three screenwriters on Bridget Jones’ Baby, sat next to him and howled in delight. Among others, The Atlantic, The Guardian and Time Out singled the line out as one of the finest, meaning that Robbie Williams ought to consider a career in writing romantic comedies. (Or perhaps not, given that it was probably comedian Jeff Green who first said it, several years earlier.) Many moviegoers might consider this a piffling matter of trivial significance. But stealing material is a complacent piece of sleight-of-hand that the first Bridget Jones film wouldn’t have tried to get away with, and it happens to be symptomatic of the films’ dip in quality
Nor is the gag an isolated example. Bridget’s friend Tom asks her, “What was it that initially attracted you to the billionaire Jack Qwant?” In 1995 Caroline Aherne donned her Mrs Merton glasses and asked of Debbie McGee, “What attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?” A little later, the scriptwriters essentially lift the foreign-chauffeur-mistakenly-being-interviewed-on-live-TV joke from the real-life example of Guy Goma in 2006. (The only difference is that Goma was not a chauffeur, as was initially reported.) Perhaps this routine is intended as a homage. Perhaps all three are homages. The problem is that they all remind the audience of far funnier pop culture milestones.
Bridget Jones’ Baby is rather like having sex for the first time: better than you’d feared, but not as good as you’d hoped. Mercifully, the film’s immediate predecessor, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, had picked up the bar that the series had held aloft in 2001 and brought it down to a height at which it was impossible not to hop over. There is, however, no point pretending that Baby reaches Diary’s giddy heights.
Why does it fall short? A comparison of Bridget’s public speaking catastrophes is telling. In Bridget Jones’ Diary she must speak at the book launch of Kafka’s Motorbike, introducing to the stage her superior Mr Fitzherbert (a man whose southbound gaze has earned him the moniker ‘Titspervert’ in Bridget’s mental Rolodex). Spotting Salman Rushdie in the room, Bridget feels compelled to qualify the company’s confident assessment that the novel is ‘the greatest book of our time’: “…Obviously except for your books, Mr Rushdie,” she says, thinking she might narrowly avoid disaster. This becomes impossible when she notices that Jeffrey Archer is also in the audience. Paranoid about further insult, she adds, “And Lord Archer: yours…aren’t bad…either.” Finally, as she presents Mr Fitzherbert, we hear her inner monologue screaming ‘Titspervert’ before she says his name. Her announcement therefore goes as follows: “And here to introduce it properly is the man we all call…Mr Fitzherbert…because that…is his name.” These are the finest 60 seconds of the film, an astute encapsulation of the ways in which public speaking makes morons of us all.
When Bridget delivers a presentation in Baby, however, insight doesn’t lose out to laziness, it simply steps into the ring and punches itself in the face. Announcing her initiative to grant viewers the platform to broadcast their own news (an impressively bad idea), ‘top news producer’ Bridget transfers live to what ends up being a huge screen filled with lairy hikers’ hairy arses. Flustered, she then proceeds to accidentally reveal her search history on the big screen: a past full of entries like ‘hot male pin-ups’. Note how easy this routine would have been to write. Note how little it tells us about our protagonist. Think how spellbindingly her book launch speech wove together Bridget’s public speaking anxieties, her impostor syndrome, and her fundamentally kind-hearted nature, to create a hilariously plausible snapshot of Hell. These differences aren’t slight. They are evidence of a script that in some sections simply rolled out of bed and hoped for the best.
The film jars when the implausibility of Bridget’s world comes to the forefront. Patrick Dempsey’s Jack Qwant is a paper-thin and unsatisfying Daniel Cleaver substitute; it is difficult to take Bridget’s career as seriously as the film wants us to when she describes her job title as ‘top news producer’; and, when Mark Darcy declares Bridget’s pregnancy to be the greatest revelation of all time, it is impossible not to think, “Quite narratively convenient, that.” The Bridget Jones films have always been at their strongest when credibly exaggerating real-world dilemmas like fancy-dress parties, cooking posh food for friends, and being crap at fighting. The third film, adrift from this mooring post, hopes in vain that cartoonish set-pieces will keep it afloat.
This is a shame because elsewhere the film boasts some funny routines (Mark and Jack carrying a pregnant Bridget through a revolving door) and some phenomenal jokes (Bridget on the futility of rebranding ‘camping’ as ‘glamping’: “Calling him ‘Gladolf Hitler’ wouldn’t suddenly make you forget all of the unpleasantness”). Robbed of a sub-plot in Edge of Reason, Bridget’s parents make a welcome return: after being chastised for feeling ashamed of Bridget’s single, pregnant status, Bridget’s mother sends the audience’s collective lip aquiver as she enters the 21st century and tells Bridget that she would be a marvellous single mother. (This is something of a theme: “You’re absolutely capable of doing this on your own,” Bridget’s obstetrician tells her, unsentimentally.)
That Bridget breaks down upon being sacked from her job and needs to be rescued immediately by Mark proves that the film has less faith in this assertion than its matriarchs. It is for this reason that Baby is being rightly criticised as having a dispiritingly conservative heart. “Knights in shining armour don’t exist any more,” Bridget says, before Mark emerges through the mist and literally carries her to hospital. No sooner does the film raise the teasing, exciting possibility that Bridget might make a go of being a single mother — or, perhaps more radically, raise a baby with a man who is not its biological father — than this hope is extinguished. It is difficult not to feel mournful for a parallel universe in which Bridget becomes a hilariously wonderful single mum, rather than feel grateful for a film in which she contemplates eternity with one man because he is a billionaire and falls back in love with another despite there having been a definitely-still-relevant reason they broke up originally.
Bridget Jones’ Baby, then, is a bit of a mess. Like many a romcom, it is guilty of providing answers too readily to some questions and not bothering to attempt answers to others. Why doesn’t Bridget have a house phone? Has anyone — let alone a maths-loving billionaire — ever been to a music festival alone? Isn’t it weird that Jack is holding Bridget’s baby as she walks down the aisle? How long can you really go without seeing a taxi in London?
Its biggest mistake, however, is being a Bridget Jones film in the first place. This dooms it to two fates. First, it must be judged against its siblings. While we can, indeed must, pretend that Edge of Reason never happened, we can’t avoid the fact that Bridget Jones’ Diary is an extremely difficult film to hold a candle to. Second, Baby is hamstrung by its source material. Partly because of the way in which feminism has stepped into the mainstream in popular culture, this source material — its obsession with women’s weight; its inescapable message that Bridget is only complete with a man by her side — now smells faintly regressive. Yet the film can only strain at its leash so far. Ultimately, it must reach roughly the same destination.
“Smug? Well, it’s about time,” Bridget tells us as the film closes. Indeed. We have been aching for so long for her to be happy. And how satisfying it would be if Working Title made the right decision to let those words be her last; to tastefully book-end the three instalments, the sound of wedding bells fading into the background. But, given that the film provided the company with its best ever opening weekend, grossed over £145 million worldwide, and teased the possibility of a sequel, what is the likelihood of such self-restraint? What dubious joys, in other words, does 2029’s Bridget Jones’ Teenager have in store for us?