It’s more than faint praise to state that Bridget Jones’s Baby, the third film starring Renée Zellweger as Helen Fielding’s fictional heroine, is easily the best to date. I’d go further: I never expected such an accomplished, well-judged comedy to emerge from this franchise.
Bridget is now 43, single, with a proper job – a cable TV news producer. She has also been celibate for a long spell. But that last state of affairs changes rapidly, when in the space of a few days she gets intimate with both Jack, a handsome American online dating mogul (Patrick Dempsey, from TV’s Grey’s Anatomy) and of course Mark Darcy (played by Colin Firth), the elusive, emotionally distant love of her life, now newly single.
What happens next? The clue’s in the title. Bridget’s pregnant - and not sure who the father is. So far, so Mamma Mia. Yet her situation gives rise both to glorious comic moments and genuinely moving predicaments.
What a relief. I confess to having dreaded the prospect of another Bridget Jones movie, following a string of re-treads being exhumed this year – the feeble return of David Brent, the big-screen version of Ab Fab (a commercial success, but not a patch on the TV series), the BBC’s baffling decision to revive comedy classics with new actors.
There’s a different tone to this third Bridget movie: it’s a little harder-edged, the jokes are more raunchy. And it’s fair to say Ms Jones, not quite so apologetic these days, agonises less about her life. (Goodbye to much of that calorie counting, then.) She’s still Helen Fielding’s creation, of course, but the gentler humour of screenwriters Richard Curtis and Andrew Davies, who collaborated on the first two films, is replaced by the caustic wit of Emma Thompson (who also plays Bridget’s acidly amusing gynaecologist) and Dan Mazer, a key colleague of Sacha Baron Cohen. The new writers work a treat.
So do the performances. I expected the absence of Hugh Grant’s caddish Daniel Cleaver to diminish the enjoyment; not so. Many minor characters return, notably Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent, reliably watchable as Bridget’s parents. And there’s a career-changing comic turn from Sarah Solemani as Bridget’s pal Miranda, a TV presenter with an insolent attitude.
Still, this is overwhelmingly Zellweger’s show. She’s been the target of spiteful comments on social media, yet despite the carping about her appearance she simply looks as she always did, except now (gasp!) she’s 15 years older than in the first film. She nails the role of Bridget once and for all in a well-judged performance. The same goes for Firth, who has perfected Darcy’s deadpan manner; when he narrows his eyes and gazes her with what looks like disapproval, that’s Mark’s idea of romantic.
Rather appropriately for a heroine now removed from her youth, some of the comic situations lag behind our current culture. We first see Zellweger lip-syncing (hilariously) to House of Pain’s Jump Around, a hit more than two decades ago. We see some Gangnam Style dancing – again, yesterday’s thing. And much corny humour is milked from affluent 40-somethings seeking out luxury at muddy rock festivals. It’s rather endearing.
Yet the film’s best comic sequence feels classically timeless, and involves Mark and Jack trying to manoeuvre Bridget, by now in labour, through the revolving doors of the hospital. It’s topped only by a memorable one-liner from Thompson about the inadvisability of letting husbands hang around to see their wives give birth. Right to the end the treats keep arriving in this, the year’s best British film comedy.
Read David Gritten's insightful film reviews every month in Saga Magazine. Subscribe to the print edition, or download the digital edition today.