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BRIDGET JONES’S BABY. Directed by Sharon Maguire, with Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey, Jim Broadbent, Gemma Jones and Emma Thompson.
REVIEW: Leslie Felperin
IF NOTHING else, Bridget Jones’s Baby can bask in the glory of being a less dismal than usual reboot of an aging franchise. It’s unquestionably more fun than, say, the lastTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film. But it isn’t as thoughtful as, for instance, Creed or even as joyfully knockabout as Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. There are crisply folded lines, and pleasingly peppery performances from the supporting cast especially, but where its beating heart should be there is a splinter of ice, the sense that no one involved is really doing this for that much love. It’s like a high school reunion where everyone attending seems to be secretly bearing a grudge that everyone else bullied them back in the day, but they’re too proud not to attend.
After a long few months dominated by muscly, macho action pictures starring actors of all genders, distributors worldwide should be able to lure out audiences desperate for something more oestrogen-powered, and this might just hit the sweet spot. Much depends on how well and how affectionately viewers remember the earlier entries in the heroine’s journal, starting with Bridget Jones’s Diary from 2001 and its much less necessary sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason from 2004.
There’s surely a hardcore fan base, particularly in the UK, of those who remember fondly first the column by author Helen Fielding in The Independent, then the book and the films, stories which examined the mores and manners of modern dating in London society, flagrantly modelled on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but without any zombies. Like America’s Sex and the City, which it was roughly contemporaneous with, it had poignant, punchy things to say about the angst of post-feminist singletons (the last a word it popularized), fretting over their careers, calorie intake and chances of finding true love in roughly equal measure.
Bridget Jones’s idea of a wild time is still a bottle of chardonnay necked solo, about as debauched as a vicarage tea party. Once more incarnated by Renee Zellweger, our Bridget is a 43-year-old veteran TV producer who’s supposedly grown up a bit at last, even if now she prefers to lip sync drunkenly to House of Pain’s Jump Around instead of another cover of that self-pity anthem she made so iconic in 2001, All by Myself.
The world has shifted significantly enough that Bridget is one of the few voices at her news programme workplace speaking up for serious stories, defying the pressure brought by young executives like Alice (a deliciously callow Kate O’Flynn) to feature more stories about cats that look like Hitler. And yet, Bridget is, by this point, out of step even with her best friends, who have all become variations on the smug married couples they used to despise, except a bit hipper and swearier. Shazzer (Sally Phillips), Jude (Shirley Henderson) and even gay Tom (James Callis) all have kids or in the case of the last, adopted kids in the pipeline. That leaves Bridget, who split up with the love of her life Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) some five years ago for reasons only vaguely explained (he worked too much; she felt lonely). Now she’s lost in the singleton wilderness (again) with only pals half a generation younger than herself to hang with, like newscaster Miranda (Sarah Solemani), a thirty-something who considers getting laid no more of a big deal than having her moustache waxed.
Dragged to the Glastonbury music festival by Miranda, Bridget is literally pulled out of the mud by handsome American Jack (Patrick Dempsey). Many vodkas and a cameo from Ed Sheeran later, she stumbles into Jack’s tent by mistake and the two have sex. Slightly ashamed of herself, Bridget flits the next morning before she finds out he’s a billionaire mathematician who owns a hugely successful dating website. Nevertheless, about 10 days later she falls into bed with her ex, Mark, now split from his shadowy wife and sentimental about the good times they used to have.
As the film’s title already reveals, Bridget gets knocked up but refuses to have the risky amniocentesis procedure recommended by her gynaecologist Dr. Rawlings (Emma Thompson) that would reveal the foetus’ paternity. Bridget, Jack and Mark eventually form a mildly risqué, sexually chaste ménage à trois as they await the birth which, like so many movie births before it, features farcical shenanigans that delay arrival at the hospital, a woman in pain taking it out on the man – or in this case men – she holds responsible and a newborn that looks about two months too old to convince anybody who’s ever really been through the experience. It’s funnier than What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but not by a wide enough margin.
One feels reluctant to lay too much blame on co-screenwriters Fielding, Dan Mazer and Thompson herself, especially as the last two have won their stripes with some fine work in the past, Mazer with collaborations with Sacha Baron Cohen (although tellingly not the disastrous Brothers Grimbsy) and Thompson with other Austen adaptations Sense and Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice. In any case, she is easily the most valuable player here, a sheer delight armed with an arsenal of arched eyebrows, clipped diction and millimeter-perfect comic timing – so much so she utterly steals the show out from under the supposed star, Zellweger.
It is a sad truth universally acknowledged that if a female actor has been the victim of sexist criticism about how she looks, then it is almost impossible to critique her performance without sounding like one is joining the misogynist fray. And yet, it has to be said, that Zellweger is by some distance the weakest core component of the film. That’s not because her face doesn’t move – it does quite normally, and with the usual range of muscular expressiveness – but because there seems to be something dead in her eyes.
The character herself floats through the film, barely interested in the men battling for her love, barely interested in her baby, suffused with a can’t-be-arsed lassitude that deflates the whole film. Her co-stars squirm and mug it up and try to fill the vacuum, but it’s no good. – Reuters/ Hollywood Reporter