Hollywood’s sequel industrial complex means we’re never truly finished with beloved characters, and 12 years after journeying to The Edge of Reason, it’s Bridget Jones’ turn yet again. The third film based on Helen Fielding’s lovably downtrodden heroine, Bridget Jones’s Baby diverges from the source material, choosing to tell an original story of the character’s entry into motherhood rather than adapting Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, the series’ third book which notoriously killed off the perfect guy/straitlaced lawyer Mark Darcy.
When the film begins, Bridget (Renée Zellweger) and Mark (Colin Firth) have been separated for years — for all the normal reasons people split — and Hugh Grant’s Daniel Cleaver is no longer in the picture. (The explanation almost makes up for his absense.) Suffice it to say that Bridget has once again found herself under her own personal raincloud and is ready for a new chapter in her life/love triangle.
Enter Jack Qwant, the improbably named, improbably nice, and improbably well-aged dating-site mogul played by Patrick Dempsey. After Bridget — of course — takes a tumble into a mud pit at a too-hip music festival — Jack comes to her rescue, leading to a romantic encounter back in his tent.
Re-enter Mark Darcy, the possible love of Bridget’s life who got away. Seeing Zellweger and Firth, two veterans with storied careers back together after all of these years is a surprisingly touching image. The feeling of knowing them so well, both in and out of the series, gives Bridget Jones’s Baby an extra emotional wallop that’s a little unexpected. After some catching up at a christening in the country, Bridget and Mark rekindle things, and wouldn’t you know it — Bridget’s love life might not be so dead after all.
The rub here are the rubbers. Bridget’s go-to brand of protection expired while Tony Blair still lived at 10 Downing Street. A few weeks following her dual trysts, Bridget has a positive reading from a pregnancy test and not a clue about whether it’s Jack or Mark who’s responsible.
What follows is both surprisingly sweet and sweetly surprising, especially coming from the moralistically narrow world of romantic comedies. Both Jack and Mark want to be the father, and neither is angry with Bridget about the predicament. The conflict once again becomes an internal struggle for Bridget and what she wants, except this time, both options are actually pretty great, making the dilemma even more difficult to parse.
The proceedings may be typical for Bridget and the series, but it’s all played so earnestly that it’s difficult to hold a grudge. Back in supporting roles — and as good as ever — are Shirley Henderson, Sally Phillips, and James Callis, as Bridget’s trio of buddies, and Sarah Solemani (The Wrong Mans) is an excellent addition as Bridget’s newscaster friend. But outshining them all is Emma Thompson, who plays a good-humored OB/GYN — in addition to a screenwriting credit along with Fielding and Dan Mazer (Da Ali G Show).
The script contains some genuinely uproarious laughs and is sharper than it needs to be, even if some of the jokes feel as old as Bridget’s condoms. (Admittedly, the conversation about “Gangnam Style” does end in a genuinely funny place.) But Bridget Jones’s Baby is a welcome return for the character and a more fitting ending than Edge of Reason… for now at least. In another 12 years, who knows? B+