Bridget Jones’s Baby: A Welcome and Wonderful Return
Watching Bridget Jones’s Baby is like curling up in front of a roaring fireplace with a hefty glass of wine in hand to have a heart-to-heart with your best girlfriend. It’s a warm, familiar, comforting sort of movie, one that frequently reassures you that it’s possible to do stupid things without being a stupid person, and to make mistakes (and plenty of them) without actually being one yourself. It’s also one that makes you laugh so hysterically that, if you were drinking that aforementioned glass of wine, you would probably end up spewing it out of your mouth mid-guffaw in an embarrassing (but appropriately Bridget Jones) fashion. These qualities are what have made Bridget Jones — embodied onscreen in all of her chaotic charm by Renee Zellweger — one of the most relatable and well-loved romantic comedy heroines. She’s a good person who tries really hard and occasionally fails. She’s smart, but still a bit sloppy and silly. She’s not perfect, and no one forces her to be. To paraphrase the dashing Mark Darcy in the first film, 2001’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, we love her just the way she is — because she’s like us.
Bridget Jones’s Baby is the third installment in the filmed misadventures of London’s quippiest singleton, the woman who coined such quintessential phrases as “fuckwit” and “smug marrieds.” It’s the first Bridget Jones film to not be adapted from one of Helen Fielding’s novels, but it doesn’t suffer from lack of source material. On the contrary, Bridget Jones’s Baby is a breath of fresh air following the disappointing, deranged adventures of 2004’s Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (a more accurate title for a story there never was, as it stretched both readers’ and viewers’ tolerance for insanity to the limit). Directed by Sharon Maguire (who also helmed the first film) and co-written by Fielding, Dan Mazer and Emma Thompson (who has a scene-stealing supporting role as Bridget’s brusque OB-GYN), Bridget Jones’s Baby goes back to basics. This time, there are no drug-smuggling jaunts to Thailand; instead, Bridget must wrestle with what it means to get older in a world that seems to no longer value women on the wrong side of 40. And, of course, choose between two dashing yet entirely different suitors who are vying for her affections.
The film opens with Bridget celebrating her 43rd birthday at home alone in her pajamas, accompanied by a sad, solitary cupcake and, of course, a hefty glass of wine. (She still drinks, though she admits later that she has given up chainsmoking.) Her lifelong friends Sharon, Tom and Jude are too wrapped up in their families to attend to Bridget, while her relationship with her longtime love, renowned human rights lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth, still the thinking woman’s dream man after all these years), fizzled out years ago due to fundamental differences between the two of them that it seems all of the chemistry in the world could not overcome. Bridget’s closest confidant right now is Miranda (Sarah Solemani, absolutely and absurdly delightful), the thirtysomething host of Hard News, the television program Bridget produces. Yet as much as she enjoys Miranda’s company, her wild lifestyle is one that Bridget is starting to feel a bit too old to enjoy. Bridget is feeling every bit her age, which is not at all helped by her mother’s repeated reminders that she is running out of time to have a baby — if she even wants one.
Miranda tricks Bridget into coming along to a Glastonbury-esque music festival to celebrate her birthday, and despite her initial refusals to party as hard as Miranda insists, Bridget ends up falling into bed with a handsome stranger. Turns out, said stranger is Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey), the billionaire founder of a dating start-up that finds your perfect match based entirely on algorithms. More freewheeling and outwardly emotional than the straight-laced Darcy, Jack is a much better romantic partner for Bridget on paper. Yet that doesn’t stop Bridget from having a night of passion with Darcy after she learns of his recent divorce. (That’s right, Darcy married a woman who wasn’t Bridget.) The two encounters happen within a week of each other, and a few weeks later, Bridget discovers that she is pregnant. Unsure of who the father is, Bridget ends up telling both men about the pregnancy, and in slightly unrealistic, wish-fulfillment fashion, both (attractive, wealthy, successful) men are excited by the prospect of surprise fatherhood and ready to duel it out for the privilege of being Bridget’s best baby-daddy. But, which one is actually the father? Not to mention: which one does Bridget really want to be the father?
Amidst all of the daddy drama, Bridget is also dealing with a massive “rebranding” effort at Hard News, spearheaded by a pack of bearded, black-clad millennials and their sneering leader, Alice (Kate O’Flynn, using blunt bangs and bold lipstick as body armor). Alice is more concerned with goofy clips that will rack up Twitter mentions than the hard news of the show’s title, and Bridget quickly starts to feel as though she is no longer welcome at work — especially once her belly starts ballooning outwards. The film does an excellent job at portraying the struggle to remain relevant at a certain age in a way that is legitimate but also, because Bridget Jones is involved, very, very funny. That this story about the issues women encounter as they get older is told predominantly by women and also told incredibly well is no coincidence. Women tell women’s stories (and men’s stories, for that matter) well, and Bridget Jones’s Baby is proof they deserve the opportunity to tell them more often.
Where Bridget Jones’s Baby also excels is actually making the audience believe that Bridget and Darcy didn’t end up together in the end. A brief montage, narrated by a letter from Bridget to Darcy, perfectly illustrates all of the little ways in which they were just too different to truly make it work in the long term. Thanks to this refreshing, warts-and-all vision of what comes after happily ever after, not to mention Dempsey’s charming turn as Jack, even the biggest Darcy loyalists in the audience will find themselves (at least somewhat) torn as to who Bridget should end up with in the end. The usual slapstick and sex jokes abound (and are generally pretty funny), along with a healthy dose of that quality that has always made the Bridget Jones series stand out from the pack: heart. A great deal of that is thanks to Zellweger, who has lost none of Bridget’s rapid-fire wit (and equally rapid-fire foot-in-the-mouth tendencies) and warmth in the twelve years since she last played the role. Bridget has matured somewhat, as befits a woman who has gotten a decade older, but fundamentally, she hasn’t changed too much, and that’s what fans will want to see. Bridget Jones still feels like the best friend you can always call for an emergency cry or a workplace-driven rant. In the end, she’s still one of us.