Movies

Keep the Bathwater, Throw Out the Baby

REVIEW: Despite a plot unworthy of the characters, “Bridget Jones’s Baby” is a great way to catch up with old friends.

Still a love triangle, slightly different points.

Still a love triangle, slightly different points.

Let’s not confuse “Bridget Jones’s Baby” with a good movie. An entertaining way to spend two laugh-filled hours: yes. A smart, fresh-voiced, hilarious take on a classic for the modern age like 2001’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary”: certainly not.

“Bridget Jones’s Baby” (BJB), the third in the Bridget Jones saga, picks up ten years after the events of “Bridget Jones 2: The Edge of Reason” (2004). Though the last film left Bridget in the arms of her Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth), Bridget, played once again by Renée Zellweger, has apparently returned to her signature state of singledom. The film opens on pajama-clad Bridget sitting alone in her London flat before a cupcake topped with a single birthday candle. In an allusion to the opening credits in the original film, she sings along to Celine Dion’s “All By Myself” with neither the energy nor spontaneity that made the same scene in “Bridget Jones’s Diary” so riotously resonant. At this point, the audience fears that this new Bridget Jones film will amount to a deflated sequel with an aged cast banking on the audience’s love for the original.

Well, the audience’s fears partly do come to fruition. BJB often hearkens back to memorable gags like Bridget’s penchant for “giant panties.” However unlike the “All By Myself” reprise, these mostly read as nods to and inside jokes on something everyone knows and loves. Even the opening scene quickly turns around: Bridget decisively turns off the ‘90s croon and instead starts dancing (flailing) to House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around.’ As Bridget remarks later in the film, “there was life in the old dog yet.”

Next, we see Bridget Jones at work, and she bears little resemblance to the bottom-baring cable news anchor of the first two films. This is the moment when Bridget the character as well as the film come into their own. She is a news producer with a mastery of international politics and an appropriate work wardrobe. The younger Bridget who practiced saying “isn’t it terrible about Chechnya?” in order to impress a man is gone. Instead, she owns her relationship status, amusedly describing herself to a coworker as a “SPILF” (Spinster I’d Like to… Well, you know).

This Bridget who has her shit moderately together rings more true to the original character than the sad 43-year-old alone on her birthday depicted in the film’s opening. Self-possessed professionally and (mostly) emotionally, though still retaining that Bridget “voice,” Bridget as we see her at work seems like someone who has experienced and grown from more than a decade of jobs and relationships since we saw her last.

Zellweger isn’t the only actor in the film whose reprisal feels true to a depiction of the character ten years after the fact. Colin Firth’s Mark Darcy, who Bridget originally called “prematurely middle-aged,” maintains his stuffy yet playful wit in an actually middle-aged form. His wrinkles make his smiles and ponderous looks no less charming than when he played a fresh-faced barrister.

The film also benefits from new characters. The hands of the members of Bridget’s former “urban family” are full with their own children. Attending to Bridget’s needs in this film are new “fabulous career women” work friends. The conversation and physical comedy between Bridget and characters like coworker Miranda (Sarah Solemani) prompt some of the film’s biggest laughs. More importantly, their interactions, which include rebellious and inappropriate repartee on the set of their cable news show, feel authentically Bridget; they give the new setting—temporal and physical—credence.

bffs.

bffs.

Performances from Zelwegger, Firth, Solemani, Jim Broadbent and Gemma Jones as Bridget’s parents, and Emma Thompson as Bridget’s unblinking OBGYN, carry the film. They are responsible for continually keeping the audience laughing, and making us believe that this isn’t simply an artifact of nostalgia but a genuine catch up in the lives of old friends.

Now, the baby.

Where the film succeeds as a performance reprisal, it fails as a movie in its own right. The script is passable thanks to the talents of Emma Thompson, Dan Mazer, and Helen Fielding who capture the personality of the characters with jokes, voice-over, and the right amount of sap. New phrases like “will he be part of this polyamorous family?” give the film some of the memorability that “Bridget Jones’s Diary” attained, but nowhere near the originality.

The plot is unforgivable. An accidental pregnancy in a 43-year-old woman that sparks a “who’s the father?” kerfuffle goes beyond unrealistic, past cliché, and straight on to pulled-from-the-reject-bin-terrible. The viewer must suspend disbelief and artistic standards if she’s going to make the most of her two hours with Bridget Jones.

A casualty of this sad excuse for a plot is Patrick Dempsey. The new guy and possible father of Bridget’s baby thanks to a one-night stand, Dempsey’s character fills the point in the love triangle vacated by Hugh Grant. While Dempsey’s heart-melting eye twinkle does put up a good fight against Grant’s body-tingling eyebrow raise, the newcomer’s inability to land a joke makes him a hollow stand-in.

tell me that eyebrow doesn't do something to you.

tell me that eyebrow doesn’t do something to you.

Other unwelcome changes are the film’s conspicuous attempts to situate itself in the 21st century. Bridget’s use of a digital diary on her iPad seems a cheap way to communicate the passage of time. References to “contemporary phenomena” from Tinder to marriage equality already feel out of date. A seamless integration of technology and progressive social change would have served the film better to situate it in 2016 than the neon signs for which it opted.

Despite the film’s failings, it is a delicious and welcome reboot. This sequel succeeded more than the first (“Edge of Reason”) because it seemed an authentic glimpse into the lives of pre-existing characters, rather than an attempt to answer the question that romantic comedies should usually leave alone: “what comes after the happily ever after?” As it turns out, to get her happy ending, Bridget just needed to do a bit of growing up.

“Bridget Jones’s Baby” is in theaters now.

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