Bridget Jones’s Baby Review
By Adam Yuster
Sequels are hard. In today’s world of Star Wars XXII, Captain America 8, and Transformers 42: Shia LaBeouf Boogaloo, it’s often easy to forget that. But it’s true. Most movies aren’t designed to sustain more than one entry. Overall, film characters are supposed to start off in one frame of mind, go through an emotional arc, and end up in an entirely different one through the course of one movie. Done. End of story. To pick up from where the original left off several years later and say, “nope, our hero hasn’t learned his or her lesson yet” is a monumental challenge. Not least of which because audiences demand an explanation. Why hasn’t so-and-so learned his or her lesson? Why is there another story to tell? Why does this sequel need to exist? Yes, in addition to having to conquer the regular obstacles that block films from achieving critical and box office glory, sequels must also present their own raison d’être.
But in Bridget Jones’ Baby’s case, it’s slightly more complicated than that. Bridget Jones’s Baby isn’t just a sequel, it’s a sequel that’s being released 15 years after its first installment, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and 12 years since its most recent one, Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason. So on top of explaining why it deserves to exist, Bridget Jones’s Baby has to answer another all-important question: why are we seeing this now? How are the characters and story still relevant in 2016?
And then, thirdly and finally, there’s the problem that plagues most—if not all—romantic comedy sequels. Rom-com sequels, by their very nature, have to distort or negate the typical happy ending of their precursors. 99% of the time, rom-coms are about the guy trying to get the girl (or vice versa). But once the guy gets the girl, where do you go from there? You don’t have the same amount of options that action franchises have. If you’re trying to write Wedding Crashers 2, you can’t go the way of the Die Hard sequels and pitch it as “Wedding Crashers, but in an airport.” You’re pretty much limited to sticking to one of these well-worn tropes: guy and girl from first movie get married; guy and girl from first movie have a baby; or guy and girl from first movie split up, then find their way back to each other again.
So how does Bridget Jones’s Baby stand up in the face of all these concerns? Not well. Bridget Jones’s Baby doesn’t have to exist. It’s pretty irrelevant. It’s clichéd. It’s predictable. It’s corny. And it falls victim to not one, but all three of the tropes I listed above.
And yet, somehow, that’s far from a death sentence.
Despite the fact that it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, Bridget Jones’s Baby is fun, and more importantly, it’s funny. That’s largely due to the charming performances given by its leads, Renée Zellweger, Patrick Dempsey, and Colin Firth.
Baby kicks off on a somewhat melancholy note. Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), one-time lover of Bridget Jones (Zellweger), has passed away. At the funeral, Bridget is reunited with the uptight but mushy-on-the-inside Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth). (For the Bridget Jones newbies, Darcy and Bridget had an on-again off-again relationship throughout the two prior films, with Cleaver serving as the romantic foil.) We learn that Bridget and Darcy broke up for good some years back. In the intervening period, Darcy got married to another woman. Bridget, on the other hand, is still single.
The day after the funeral, Bridget and her best friend, Miranda (Sarah Solemani), decide to blow off steam by going to a music festival. There, Bridget has a tryst with self-made billionaire and media mogul Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey), who begins to fall for Bridget over the course of their brief encounter. Two weeks later, Bridget has a one-night stand with Mr. Darcy, who confesses his feelings for Bridget shortly after confiding that he and his wife are getting a divorce. Complications arise when Bridget becomes pregnant and she isn’t sure whether Darcy or Qwant is the father.
Bridget Jones’s Baby shines when it allows us to revel in its main character’s awkwardness. The good news is we get a lot of opportunities to revel. Throughout the film, Bridget is her own worst enemy. Much of the movie’s tension results from her poor decisions—or her lack of decisions entirely. Zellweger does a pitch-perfect job of portraying Bridget as an endearing everywoman who seems to find herself stuck in the stickiest situations. Better still, Zellweger steers clear of whininess, and she manages to gain sympathy for accident-prone Bridget by never letting Bridget lose sight of her optimism.
The men are similarly on point. Dempsey makes the best of his role as a fairly standard Mr. Perfect, injecting a healthy amount of snark to liven things up. Colin Firth, too, does a fine job of reprising Mr. Darcy.
But this time out, the role of Darcy is surprisingly underwritten. Curiously, a large amount of the movie’s run-time is devoted to building up Qwant as a laid-back, spiritually-minded adversary to Darcy, but virtually no time is spent justifying why Darcy would be a good romantic candidate for Bridget. Instead, the movie digs into their history—known to only those who’ve seen the previous two movies—to make a case for why they would make a good husband and wife somewhere down the line. Because of the large time gap between sequels, it would’ve been nice for the movie to present new positive experiences for Bridget and Darcy to bask in instead of relying so heavily on old ones that much of the audience probably wouldn’t know about.
One final word before I go. Though Bridget Jones’s Baby did not resonate with me on a level that other films have, there is a caveat. I am not in its target audience. I am 19 years old. Bridget Jones’s Baby is quite obviously targeting those 40 and above. It’s easy to tell this from the style of its humor. For example, one of the film’s most notable running jokes is that the times may have changed since 2001, but Bridget has not. She does not know who Ed Sheeran is when she runs into him at the music festival. She does not know how to fix her MacBook when it malfunctions during a presentation. She fears being fired by her new boss, a younger woman who wants to revamp Bridget’s news show for millenials. If I were older, I probably would have appreciated and identified with jokes like these more. As it is, most of them elicited a light chuckle at most.