‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’ review: Renee Zellweger returns sweetly, awkwardly to iconic role

Posted by on Sep 18, 2016 in Voice-Over | 0 comments

FILM REVIEW

‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’

2.5 stars (out of 4)

MPAA rating: R for language, sex references and some nudity

Cast: Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey, Emma Thompson

Director: Sharon Maguire

Run time: 122 minutes

As “Bridget Jones’s Baby” opens, our plucky protagonist celebrates her 43rd birthday alone in her apartment with a single, sad cupcake, Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself” blaring its weepy lamentations on the soundtrack.

“How in hell did I end up here again?” Bridget asks in her trademark voiceover, which is a right and relevant question, both inside and out of the narrative. A dozen years have passed since the last Bridget Jones film, “The Edge of Reason,” and with this third entry comes a remarkable new life hurdle for the comedy-heroine, as well as a remarkable lack of anticipation from the moviegoing public. I can sense the collective shrug of indifference to Renee Zellweger’s third go as the endearingly rumpled Bridget, who now chronicles her life of embarrassing mishaps and understated feminism on a tablet computer, to perhaps prove herself capable of Twittering with the modern masses.

Notably, unlike its predecessors, “Baby” discards its source material and embarks on its own journey, disregarding Helen Fielding’s third novel, 2013’s “Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy,” in which Bridget is 51, a widowed mother of two and involved with a 29-year-old fellow. The new film deposits her in the same cute, cramped apartment as before, working as a “top news producer” and single as the dickens. And also skinny – “I’m at my perfect weight,” she says in voiceover, no longer bearing the curvy figure that made her such a relatable heroine of the early 2000s.

I only mention this because such a big deal was made of Zellweger’s adding a few pounds for the role back then, in contrast to the Barbie physiques of so many idealized, waify wonder women pop-fiction protagonists. Now, in “Baby,” she attends disco spin class, and, once she’s knocked up, can’t down a bottle of wine to fuel an awkward scene. In fact, Bridget apparently has achieved a new level of grace. The film’s opening scenes include a funeral for the Hugh Grant character from earlier films, Daniel Cleaver, dead by plane crash. At the service, Bridget takes the microphone and klutzes over a double-entendre, but recovers with a sweet, simple sentiment, and the scene isn’t the mortifying derailing we expect. It seems Bridget has cultivated some maturity while she was away, to balance the ever-present immaturity of her character, and the film adopts this tonal yin and yang.

Case in point, Bridget’s visit to a mildly hedonistic outdoor music festival. Cluelessly overdressed in all white and spike heels, she splats face-first in a mudhole, so she can be rescued by Jack Qwant, played by Patrick Dempsey with his signature flimsy charm. The scene sets up Bridget’s tipsy stumbling into Jack’s rented yurt for the right rogering she was so starved for. Bridget sneaks out the morning after, because the liberated self that allows her such a fling is still dampened slightly by shame. Regardless, her schtup-and-run gets the plot mechanics in motion, and it’s not until after she genitally reconnects with her old flame, the tragically stiff lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), that she realizes Jack Qwant is, by amazing coincidence and contrivance, a multi-millionaire developer of a dating-site algorithm determining who’s compatible with whom.

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Of course, the child’s paternity is the film’s driving narrative component. Bridget decides it’s easier to play both sides of the deception game than take the enormous amniocentesis needle necessary for a DNA test – much to the chagrin of her obstetrician, who plays along when Bridget brings Mark and Jack in for separate ultrasound appointments. The barely tolerant, humorless doc is played by Emma Thompson with icy line-readings cutting through the flab of the picture’s broad, silly comedy; prior to seeing the film, I was surprised to see Thompson also credited as a screenwriter, but soon realized she gave herself all the best lines. As the best thing in the movie, she should have written herself into a few more scenes.

Cluttering “Baby” are peripheral subplots about an outspoken female punk-rock band Darcy is defending in court, and the ironic-hipster millennials taking over management of the news program Bridget produces. The intent is to enrich the story with extremity, toying with classic Bridget Jones themes – the discomforts of feminist rebellion, the temptation to cling desperately to one’s youth. To paraphrase kids these days, hashtag whatever. These modest ambitions are at best comedically obvious and underdeveloped, distractions instead of enhancements.

Zellweger frequently seems awkward in Bridget Jones’ skin this time around, as if lacking direction for the character’s development from me me me to mama (evidence that straying from Fielding’s material was perhaps a bad idea). Her go-to move is the classic Zellweger Squinch – a pursing of the lips, a squint, a cocking of the head, as she does in the inevitable scene in which she urinates on a pregnancy-test stick. The character functions better in the handful of tender, heartful moments, when the actress doesn’t feel pressure to elicit laughter from the back row. Although the film marks some personal progress in Bridget’s life, she’s still foul-mouthed as she pinballs, precariously as ever, between two viable, if flawed, men. But against the backdrop of 2016, the character has lost some of the spark and spunk that once made her so endearing.

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