Looking back, it’s amusing to think that the casting of the very American Renée Zellweger as author Helen Fielding’s British heroine was such a bone of contention for fans when Bridget Jones’s Diary was released in 2001. That film kicked off Zellweger’s three-year dance with Oscar, culminating in a Supporting Actress win for Cold Mountain (her third consecutive nomination). Yet, in the years since, Zellweger’s profile has diminished, and her Oscar-winning performance is remembered more for her over-the-top accent than as a career highlight.
Instead, her role as neurotic self-professed “spinster” Bridget Jones remains one of Zellweger’s most indelible, in part since she reprised it for the ill-received sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason in 2004. However, now poised to return to the spotlight full-force after a six-year absence, Zellweger circles back to the character with Bridget Jones’s Baby, and thankfully, the resulting film actually marks a return to form for the franchise.
Now 43 years old, Bridget finds herself alone and miserable once again, her relationship with Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) having ended badly years prior. Her other on-again/off-again paramour Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) has recently passed away (no spoilers here; that reveal that takes place in the first few minutes), and a depressed Bridget is nearly set to bounce back with the help of mysterious stranger Jack (Patrick Dempsey). Of course, this short-term bliss comes crashing down when Bridget discovers – soon after one-night flings with both Mark and Jack – that she’s pregnant. And so, she sets out to get her life in order and sort out which of her suitors is the father of her child.
The accidental pregnancy is a plot device that has been covered time and again in romantic comedies, but Zellweger and her co-stars infuse this tired setup with enough natural charm to make it easy to overlook the more hackneyed elements of the film’s storytelling. Just look at it as the same old story, just given a Bridget Jones twist (neurotic inner monologue and all). Bridget Jones’s Baby effortlessly reminds audiences why this character and her world were so compelling in the original film, an unsurprising feat considering that this third entry marks the return of original director Sharon Maguire.
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Unlike the previous two films, Bridget Jones’s Baby is not based on one of Fielding’s novels, but is an original story concocted by the author herself, Dan Mazer (Borat) and Emma Thompson (who also plays Bridget’s doctor in the film). In addition to the central paternity question, their screenplay hones in on the coming-of-age aspect of a becoming a first-time parent, continuing Bridget’s evolution from perpetually single young adult to a 40-something forced to grow up once and for all. The execution of this message isn’t exactly subtle – as evidenced by the introduction of Bridget’s “hip” new millennial boss and a clueless encounter with pop singer Ed Sheeran – but the film incorporates enough of the “reality versus expectation” edge that is the Bridget Jones series’ trademark to make the story worth the journey.
Even if it is ultimately faced with dragging out its heroine’s dilemma for its entire 122-minute runtime, Bridget Jones’s Baby brings enough memorable laughs, sweet moments and a legitimate romantic rivalry between the more distant incumbent Mark and the aggressively warm Jack. Moreover, Sarah Solemani is a standout as one of Bridget’s co-workers, and Jim Broadbent and Gemma Jones elevate their limited screen time as Bridget’s parents, returning to the roles for the third time.
At this point, it remains to be seen if this film will jumpstart a new era for Bridget Jones or bring the character’s evolution to an end, but if the latter turns out to be true, at least Bridget Jones’s Baby is about as wholly satisfying a conclusion as fans could hope for. Even better, it ends the trilogy – among the only to ever be directed exclusively by female directors – on a empowering note for the character, bringing her to a place where she might finally find a little peace. Only time (and box office receipts) will tell if Bridget is destined to whip out her diary for a fourth time.
Renee Zellweger returns to her Oscar-nominated role without missing a beat, finally redeeming the character after her lacklustre sophomore appearance.