My expectations going into Bridget Jones’s Baby were low. Watching the trailer invoked a low-simmering frustration aimed at the state of the romantic comedy that gave way to a desire to see it, regardless of how truly awful the third and hopefully final installment in the Bridget Jones series might be. Beyond all reason, the movie has a fantastic Rotten Tomatoes rating—77%, higher than forthcoming critical darling The Magnificent Seven—but nothing about the film itself led me to believe that I would enjoy myself. Against all reason, I did.
Bridget Jones’s Baby feels like a throwback in the spirit of Bridget Jones’s Diary, a light-hearted romantic comedy that generally ignores the fact that all its characters are deeply flawed, while still exploiting their messiness for the sake of plot. If you’ve seen the trailer, you already know what it is: Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) is knocked up and has no idea who the baby’s father is. It could be Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey), a smarmy dating guru with a penchant for algorithms, sweaters and green juice; it could be Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), the sad-sack human rights lawyer incapable of communication beyond a muffled hrmph and the occasional wry comment. Bridget sleeps with Jack after stumbling into his yurt at Glastonbury; she sleeps with Mr. Darcy at her godchild’s christening, moved to ardor by the fact that he’s divorcing his third wife.
At face value, this sounds like a tired and bad premise for a movie, and it certainly is. Even though Bridget is a fictional character, she’s beloved by millions because she possesses some sort of reliability, a vessel for all of our supposed greatest fears: dying alone and unloved and washed, surrounded by only your beloved pajama pants and ratty robes, being eaten by Alsatians. I wanted more for Bridget, somehow, for her to snap out of her baby and marriage-focused K-hole, but it’s 2016 and she never did.
Part of the charm of Bridget’s life when we first meet her in Bridget Jones’s Diary is that her life is actually full before she’s distracted by a man. Here, though, sidekicks Shazzer, Jude and Tom are nothing more than window dressing, existing only as a means of showing just how isolating Bridget’s childless spinsterhood really is. In a throwaway scene at a Soul Cycle-esque spinning class taught by Tom, we learn that he can’t make it to her birthday dinner because he and his partner are adopting a baby and must get on a flight to Bogota immediately. That is the last we hear of Tom or his Colombian baby. Jude and Shazzer are harried, sex-starved mothers now, busy and with very little time to tend to Bridget’s needs. Their cinematic replacement is Miranda, a thirty-something news anchor at Bridget’s work who teaches Jones about the importance of Tinder and, in the best scene of the entire film, winds up trapped in one of those giant inflatable human hamster balls with Ed Sheeran at Glastonbury—a nice segue to what I can only describe as lovemaking between Bridget and Jack, scored to Sheehan’s insidious earworm “Thinking Out Loud.”
Halfway through, it occurred to me that Bridget is something approaching a cool aunt—a fate that feels less like a death sentence and more like something to work towards. Yet Bridget’s world-view is just so old-fashioned, and she likes it that way. She wouldn’t be Bridget Jones if she weren’t laser-focused on the church wedding, the white dress and the baby and the husband. Abortion, as others have pointed out, is not even discussed as an option, as though it wouldn’t be a viable one to consider for a working woman in 2016, in a country where it is legal and frequently discussed. To expect more from Bridget Jones is to want the character and what she represents to be something other than itself.
Even so, I very much enjoyed this movie; I would’ve enjoyed it even more if I were on a red-eye and in my feelings about something, drinking a Coke and crying. But the change I was hoping to see in Bridget as a character—a progression that, presumably, would have mirrored a cultural one for women in the 15 years since Diary was released—just wasn’t there. She’s matured enough to realize that her life isn’t actually that terrible; she has a job, and an apartment, and two sorta-damaged but conventionally happy men fighting over her.
But in her quest to have it all, one wonders, is this all we get? Two somewhat shitty men as the best possible solutions to the “problem” of having a baby without a father? Nothing about Bridget Jones’s life except for Bridget’s own self-assessment leads me to believe that she isn’t capable of raising the child alone. Yet Bridget rails against that facet of modernity because that’s who she is, I guess. At one point, I scrawled “I can’t with this” in my notes, but am unsure now as to what part of the movie it was referring to. Maybe it was the Ed Sheeran-scored lovemaking, or maybe it was the entire premise in and of itself.