It’s hard to imagine a film it would be less cool to go and see than the latest in the Bridget Jones saga. While the first in the series, Bridget Jones’ Diary, was funnier and more enjoyable than it’s ever been fashionable to admit, sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason was a significantly weaker affair, and the entire concept has, in the twelve years since BJ:TEOR, been dismissed as weak, watery nonsense.
Bridget Jones’ Baby, then, was a pleasantly entertaining return to form. Absent the floppy hair and floppier vowels of Hugh Grant — the film opens with Jones attending Daniel Cleaver’s funeral service — the worst excesses of rom-com tedium are avoided, and a more richly enjoyable film is allowed to develop. The story is simple, and absurd — Jones, now a TV producer, is convinced by her new best mate Miranda (an agreeably, and moderately, eccentric Sarah Solemani) to get herself laid. This she does at an unspecified rock festival, a faintly AbFab-esqu scene complete with a surprisingly effective celeb cameo, courtesy of Jack, a stock gorgeous American (Patrick Dempsey in “I’m gorgeous — what more do you want of me?” mode), and then a week later at a christening, this time thanks to Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth, obviously).
The plot plays out somewhat predictably from here — the titular baby’s father could be either of Jones’ two recent lovers, and the two men vie for the pregnant Jones’ affections in a way not totally dissimilar to the Netflix telenovela Jane The Virgin.
What makes the film work is the return to scriptwriting duties of Helen Fielding. Jones is her baby, and while she wrote the books on which the first two films in the series, she wasn’t part of the screenwriting for The Edge Of Reason. But she’s back, a woman writing an authentic female character played very strongly by a reasonably convincing Renée Zellweger impersonator. That Emma Thompson had a part in writing the screenplay, and plays Jones’ doctor with the tart, yet warm, archness that Thompson has made her very own, only adds to the richness of the film.
I told friends I was going to see Bridget Jones’ Baby; the news was met with a mixture of derision and snarky “turn your man card in — now” remarks. There is, clearly, an assumption that it belongs in that rather tiresome genre, the romantic comedy — a type of film typically advertised by a poster of Matthew McConaughey (for it has been, so often, he, the American Hugh Grant for the longest time), often with his jacket slung over his shoulder, often leaning against his female lead, Kate Hudson or Jennifer Lopez, a type of film that’s rarely comedic and not even terribly romantic, and usually dismally, unwatchably formulaic. It’s also, broadly speaking, an American construct. There have been British romantic comedies, often starring Hugh Grant, but — largely because they tend to be written by Richard Curtis — they tend to be significantly better than their American counterparts. But Bridget Jones’ Baby, just because it happens to be a comedy with a female lead who, not entirely unreasonably, would like love in her life, is lumped in alongside Notting Hill, or Love, Actually, or Four Weddings And A Funeral. Good company to be in, to be fair, but to categorise Bridget Jones’ Baby with films like these is to do it a disservice.
It’s a genuinely funny film, a sharply, and at times very swearily, scripted, witty and intelligent picture. While Dempsey is a little one-dimensional, and flat with it, Firth takes Darcy’s one dimension — repressed, awkward, quintessentially English — and builds a detailed, nuanced character round it. Solemani as Miranda has an off-kilter charm as the presenter of the news programme Jones produces, and some of the film’s funniest scenes happen as Jones feeds Miranda her interview questions through an earpiece. And Zellweger herself, often looking like a runner-up in a Renée Zellweger look-alike contest, holds the film together. Twelve years on from The Edge Of Reason, she still has the combination of nervousness and misplaced confidence that makes Bridget Jones an entirely engaging and enjoyable character to watch onscreen, putting her own stamp on Fielding’s creation.
So don’t imagine this is some kind of rom-com or chick flick or any other kind of “only women should be seeing it” nonsense. Bridget Jones’ Baby is a very entertaining film.