Following the pattern of so many recent sequels, with their ultra-long gestations, it’s been twelve years since Helen Fielding’s creation has graced the silver screen. Now that she’s reappeared in “Bridget Jones’s Baby,” one can only observe that, as is usually the case, the wait wasn’t long enough. The picture comes across like a slickly refurbished relic, a flat bit of frothy formula that only nostalgia buffs could warm to.
It turns out that at forty-three Bridget (Renee Zellweger) hasn’t changed all that much. She’s no longer concerned overmuch about her weight, but despite holding an important job as the producer of a television news show hosted by her chum Miranda (Sarah Solemani), she remains the irritating twit she always was, klutzy and ditsy as ever, even at work. She’s also still unattached.
That changes quickly, though, when she finds herself suddenly connected to two men. One, of course, is her long-time love, uptight human rights lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), who happily becomes available again (via divorce) just as he and Bridget are thrown together at both a funeral and a christening. They quickly sleep together. But before that happens, Bridget meets handsome American Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey)—a dating guru who’s discovered an algorithm for predicting perfect couplings—at a alcohol-fueled music festival, and naturally sleeps with him too. So when she finds out that she’s pregnant, she doesn’t know which of them is the father, and that becomes the focus of the script by Fielding, Dan Mazer and Emma Thompson (who plays Bridget’s tart-tongued obstetrician) as both men vie to act the part. (She’s unwilling to submit to amniocentesis, you see, preferring to string both of them along for nine months.)
This premise has all the edginess of a Doris Day comedy, and while it’s worked out to a conclusion that’s utterly predictable despite strenuous efforts to keep it uncertain, subplots are stuffed into the mix both to reintroduce characters familiar from earlier installments (like Jim Broadbent as Bridget’s supportive dad and Gemma Jones as her flighty mom) and new ones. The most prominent of the latter is a smug young executive, Alice (Kate O’Flynn), presented as a horrible example of hipsterdom in the workplace. We’re meant to consider her some sort of grotesque villain because Bridget has to kowtow to her, but in reality our zany heroine proves herself such a total incompetent time and time again that she should have been sacked years ago.
But the stuff regarding Alice and all the other marginal folks is distinctly secondary to Bridget’s predicament—her troublesome triangle with stuffy but supportive Mark and pushily accommodating Jack. It can’t be considered a spoiler to reveal that Bridget’s water will break at a most inopportune moment, and that the picture’s last act will center on the effort to get her to the hospital on time, despite the lack of a car (a pizza delivery cart is enlisted instead), a protracted sequence that involves some unfunny heavy lifting. (Whenever a picture ends with a birthing scene, it’s a sign of pandering and desperation. In this case the degree of each exceeds all reasonable bounds.)
But in fact, virtually everything in “Bridget Jones’s Diary” is unfunny, and often even borderline tasteless (like the details of Mrs. Jones’s campaign for some sort of council seat, or a couple of botched live interviews that get jokey about genocide). There’s some compensation in Thompson’s scenes, which actually evince some verbal wit to go along with the actress’ sly line readings; one suspects that her screenplay credit comes from her penning her own material. But though elsewhere there are numerous scenes of individuals or groups jumping around frantically to dance music, little of their simulated joy is likely to prove contagious insofar as the audience is concerned.
Unhappily, one of the movie’s biggest weaknesses is Zellweger. Bridget Jones may be her “signature” role, but her pratfalls are tiresome and her habit of scrunching up her face into odd contortions even more so. One shouldn’t blame her too harshly, though; it’s the character that has been a central problem from the very beginning, a combination of the sad-sack singlehood of a cartoon figure like Cathy and the wackiness of Lucy Ricardo that’s just never gelled. Firth does his customary stiff-lipped shtick as the honorable Darcy, and Dempsey is okay as the alternate suitor; but everyone else—Shirley Henderson, Celia Imrie, James Callis, Sally Phillips, as well as Broadbent, Gemma Jones and Solemani—is basically doing sitcom-level work, though some of it (like Thompson’s) is high-grade sitcom. There’s also a cameo (unfunny, of course) by singer Ed Sheeran, if that should be of interest to anybody. The movie looks handsome enough, thanks mainly to Andrew Dunn’s cinematography, but the sheen is deceptive, like pretty wrapping paper on an empty package.
One person has benefited from this otherwise cheerless movie—Hugh Grant, who played cad Daniel Cleaver in the previous installments. Cleaver is reported to have died by the beginning of this installment, and though a twist at the close suggests otherwise, that plot premise allowed the actor to keep his distance from the project. You should follow his example and keep yours from the finished product.