Sometimes, character wins. Whilst the basic framework of Bridget Jones’s Baby will be familiar to anyone who watched the excellent first film and the piss-poor second, what screenwriters Helen Fielding, Emma Thompson and Dan Mazer have appreciated here is that the core central character of Bridget Jones is their greatest asset. They are not shy about playing to that.
As such, Bridget Jones’s Baby wastes no time reintroducing us to Bridget, and Renee Zellweger wastes no time effortlessly slipping back into her most popular role. We encounter Bridget this time alone, single, and being woken up on her 43rd birthday. She’s working on a television news show that’s being overtaken by clickbait culture. She’s back to square one, still scribbling in her diary, just a decade on. And once more, she’s stuck. Déjà vu? Yep, and that’s the point.
As such, the early part of the film quickly reintroduces us to Bridget’s circle of friends, and this is a very good thing, as it gives the brilliant Sally Phillips screen time as Shazzer. Phillips, who was able to steal scenes in I’m Alan Partridge with a single snigger, is one of the standout highlights of an excellent ensemble. Sarah Solemani is exquisite too, and Emma Thompson – lord, the world needs more Emma Thompsons – gives a masterclass of timing, pitch and screen presence.
And then there’s Zellweger. Marrying up physical comedy with a sharp eye for when to leave a pregnant pause for effect, it’s as if Bridget has never been away. No small feat, that.
That said, the plot seems to never have been away either. The last two Bridget Jones films have had Bridget in the middle of a love triangle of sorts, with previously Hugh Grant’s Daniel Cleaver and Colin Firth’s Mark Darcy, the two men in her life.
This time, Cleaver is out, and Patrick Dempsey is in, as online dating algorithm generating rich man Jack. And even though – as the title suggests – there’s a baby in the midst of things this time, the mechanics are still in place. There are a couple of sparsely serviced subplots, a collection of stretched contrivances to keep things moving, and basically the thinnest plot threads that the film can get away with. You can probably predict the songs on the soundtrack before you’ve sat in your seat too.
And yet, it oddly doesn’t really matter. A marked step up from the last film, Bridget Jones’s Baby knows what it’s doing. Director Sharon Maguire is back, having skipped film two, and she zeroes in on what the audience are buying tickets to see: a relatable, funny, charming and wonderfully foul-mouthed character, battling through life.
Furthermore, she and her editing team understand and get comedy. Timing beats are hit with precision, and – even though the film drags just a little – there are lots of good laughs. Some, granted, are bought with familiarity, but others are worked hard for with focused filmmaking, excellent gag writing, and quality editing. It meant that as the credits were rolling, the films flaws were evident in my head, but also the fact that I’d laughed consistently throughout.
If there’s a weak link, then perhaps Patrick Dempsey gets a little short-changed. We’re not quite at the level of when Steve Guttenberg quit the Police Academy movies to be replaced by Matt McCoy, but as the rivalry with the brilliant Colin Firth’s Darcy escalates, a bit of me couldn’t help thinking it was a bit more fun when Hugh Grant was in the opposite corner.
Still, it’s a bit like the Lethal Weapon 4 of the Bridget Jones series this. That the edges of the story have been toned down a little, in exchange for having a fun time with characters that it’s very welcome to spend time with. Plus some childbirth. The one-liners are a lot better than that final Lethal Weapon sequel, mind, with one particular zinger from Emma Thompson a work of flat-out comedy genius. And, for a third film in a series, that it still manages to spring a surprise or two is very welcome.
As odd as you may think to see a site like this reviewing a Bridget Jones film, I’ve long been an advocate of the first film, whose ability to entertain and raise chuckles on repeated viewings is nothing to sniff at. Find me a funny comedy, and I’ll gladly watch it. And Bridget Jones’s Baby? It’s a funny comedy, and some of its jokes have stuck, days after I saw it. And what’s more, it’s a film that knows its audience, but doesn’t entirely take them for granted.
Bridget Jones’s Baby is in UK cinemas from September 16th.
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