If Bridget Jones’s Diary was a charmed flash of Brit rom-com brilliance, and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason a terrible curse, Bridget Jones’s Baby is a sprinkling of redemptive magic – not so giddily impressive as the first time we witnessed it, but almost more surprising that similar alchemy could be conjured a second time. The terrain is well-trodden by now, so the lingering shine has diminished in the decade-and-a-half since Bridget whispered “nice boys don’t kiss like that” to Mark Darcy, but somehow the characters – and the filmmakers – are able to reignite the same initial spark.
When last we saw Bridget, she was, ya know, dancing with inmates in a Thai prison and whatever other excessively cute garbage was being perpetrated in Edge of Reason, which turned the character’s once-iconic relatable flaws into a mangled caricature. What a wise move to let a decade pass before attempting this third installment – everyone involved needed an extended breather, including the audience. As a result, Bridget Jones’s Baby feels fresh in spirit, even as it basically cribs the same formula applied in the first two installments – our charismatically awkward heroine bemoans chronic singledom but nevertheless stumbles into a scenario where two men vie for her affections. It’s literally the same framework, but somehow also results in the same irresistible charms.
In a delightfully cruel twist of screenplay fate, Bridget (Renee Zellweger, in her first screen performance in six years) has finally reached her ideal weight after decades of struggle…but then she becomes pregnant. Of course, the trouble doesn’t stop there, as it generally doesn’t for Bridget. The father’s identity isn’t clear, the result of an impressive stretch in which Bridget goes to a Burning Man-style concert and hooks up with Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey), the millionaire creator of an algorithm-based online dating portal, and serendipitously reconnects with Darcy (Colin Firth) at a mutual friend’s gathering. Mark and Bridge separated some years back – conveniently – and now he’s separating from his new wife – more conveniently. The whole enterprise is a belabored setup to the same conflict we’ve charted twice already, with the pregnancy as the topper.
Yet there remains an undeniable chemistry between Zellweger and Firth, their severely divergent personas pushing against the obvious they belong together pull. Dempsey offers surprisingly interesting spice – not as the Hugh Grant-esque shameless cad, but as an earnest do-gooder whose charming warmth poses legit competition against Darcy’s notorious stiffness. Their dynamic – both as romantic adversaries and as a functioning trio – is surprising in its comic deftness and sneaky in how it plays our expectations. The eternal question of Who Will Bridget Pick? always seems just obvious enough to make us doubt ourselves. Bridget herself doesn’t help matters, ever the gullible sap, never quite sure what she wants or if she’s worth wanting. Zellweger, returning to her most famous role, reconnects with the same unwittingly charming rhythms that earned her an Oscar nomination for the 2001 original. It’s like she found Bridget Jones again.
More importantly, she was given the space to find Bridget Jones again. Bridget Jones’s Baby isn’t startlingly inventive or revelatory, but its greatest virtue, oddly enough, is precisely that. It knows the key to its success is finding the balance that made the original film sing. The love triangle presses just the right buttons to make us feel. Music is once again a character, in stark contrast to the layer of Top 40 mayonnaise that was applied to Edge of Reason. And Bridget is fabulously neurotic, but not to the point of kitsch. Much of the credit for all of the above belongs to director Sharon Maguire, who returns to the franchise she started after wisely skipping the 2004 sequel. She understands what makes the characters tick, what makes their romance soar, what makes their plight so embarrassingly funny. Cynicism comes easy 12 years after a disastrous sequel, but Bridget Jones’s Baby knows itself and its audience enough to erase it all and – cue the cornball – make us fall in love with Bridget all over again.