8 out of 10
Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Directed by Sharon Maguire
Bridget Jones’s Baby Review:
Clichés become clichés because they work. Story tropes and forms are followed because people respond to them the same way over and over, removing some of the risk and terror of the blank page. That has been particularly true of the romantic comedy genre. There’s something naturally optimistic about two people coming together for the first time no matter how many times it’s done: the meet cute, the misunderstandings, the eventual reconciliation. What comes after is harder – happily ever after is tough to dramatize and repeated first meetings make the clichés more obvious.
Worse, it’s a genre handcuffed to the idea of first love and we’ve been trained to think of that as something which only really happens in our youth – middle age is a time for marriage and children, not singledom. Bridget Jones (Zellweger) is looking to upend all of those notions, finally at peace with herself and her life choices, which include still being single and still keeping a diary.
Sliding gracefully into middle age, the newest iteration of Bridget Jones has come to grips with the things she does and doesn’t need and has no problem putting husband or baby in the latter category. Gone is the living version of the old ‘Cathy’ comic strip that seemed to exist only to find a man. In her place is a confident and adult woman who, foibles intact, has developed the fortitude to make what she wants out of her life instead of what other people – for instance her domineering mother (Jones) – want for her.
It’s a tremendous step forward, not just from the disastrous last film in the series (which, not coincidentally, is never mentioned once here) but for romantic comedies in general. Director Sharon Maguire, returning to the series after sitting Edge of Reason out, seems to has realized what the last director didn’t – that stories need surprise and development more than they need familiarity.
The biggest change is not the exit of Hugh Grant’s Daniel Cleaver but of Firth’s Mark Darcy. Freed of the prison of trying to build a relationship with him, Bridget has, over the years, realized it was not a healthy endeavor because he was married to his work. Zellweger blooms without the restraint, reminding why she was so good in the role initially, even when forced into overly telegraphed pratfalls.
She is not just better at playing a put-together woman, the film is better for it as writers Helen Fielding, Dan Mazer and Emma Thompson are forced to look for new avenues of humor rather than just repeat what has gone before. In that sense, the act of breaking the mold is a victory in and of itself. But a limited one as the new Jones is quickly forced into a different type of youthful cliché when a pair of one-night stands leaves her expecting and not entirely certain who the father is: old flame Mark (Firth) or dashing relationship guru Jack (Dempsey).
On the one hand, the filmmakers involved are good enough to get some very good material from such a well-worn source. By far the best scene in the film is Bridget’s eventual revelation to the two would-be-fathers that the other exists; primarily for the reaction of the poor waiter forced to overhear the whole thing. Humiliation humor has been done lazily for so long that it is easy to forget that it can be good when done well and the new Bridget is a frequent reminder of that for many different facets of the rom-com.
On the other hand, it can allow itself to get only so far from its starting point. For some reason, Bridget must have a pair of men to make a decision between (because she did in the first film) even if the story ties itself in knots to make that happen. With Hugh Grant happily gone (not for any deficiencies on his part, but because what’s been done has been done), that also means introducing a new character, and while the idea to make the new ‘other man’ the polar opposite of Daniel Cleaver is good in theory, it is bland and unappealing in practice.
Equally so is a never-ending subplot about Bridget’s attempts to keep her job at a faltering television network when a raft of twenty-something hipsters come on board. Maguire and her writers clearly want to show Bridget’s life is about more than men and babies, even when that becomes the core of the film’s plot, and it’s a laudable notion – it’s just the jokes built out of the idea aren’t particularly funny. More to the point, they feel false. It’s not just that Dempsey or the TV hipsters are bland or that they pale in comparison to the brief moments when Jones or Emma Thompson’s withering OB/GYN show up, it’s that the story is not about them no matter how much it would like to be.
The film is about Bridget choosing what she wants, specifically if she wants Darcy or not (as opposed to whether he wants her). It becomes vibrant and alive when it is about that and asleep at the wheel when it is not. Still, if just the burst of originality is all a film gets right, it’s a quality which should be rewarded regardless of other criticisms. Clichés may work, but that doesn’t mean we always want or need them.[Gallery not found]