3 stars (out of 4)
Dear diary: I was skeptical about the new Bridget Jones movie. The first one was wonderful but the sequel was dreadful. And that was 12 years ago! I truly believed author Helen Fielding should have just called it a day and enjoyed her royalties. I’m pleased to report that I was wrong. Bridget Jones’s Baby, which opens Friday, September 16, is not only like a hug from an old friend, it’s v. delightful and v. funny. Also, I gained 2 pounds from my popcorn and M&Ms diet at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The lovably flawed Brit (Renée Zellweger, as charming as ever) is now a 43-year-old TV news producer. She’s still single — but this is not the same woman who feels sorry for herself and keeps “All By Myself” playing on perma-loop in her flat. Indeed, in the opening credits she hops on her bed and dances to the ’90s hip-hop jam “Jump Around.”
Nonetheless, she’s been stuck in a major dating rut ever since she split from Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) years ago. Her other ex, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), is out of the picture too. She’s also never looked better (“I’m down to my goal weight!” she exclaims). She just wants a good old-fashioned shag.
Miss Jones gets busy in a hurry: At a music festival, she makes an indelible first impression on a dashing American stranger (Patrick Dempsey), and the two do it in his tent. She never gets his name. A few nights later at a party, she runs into her Mr. Darcy, who tells her that his marriage is over. They get drunk and stumble back in the sack as well.
Guess whose pregnancy test soon ends up positive? So who’s the daddy? The answer to that trite Jerry Springer Show–like plot device doesn’t even matter. Besides, Firth looks like he’s ready to bolt for a pedigreed period drama after the ultrasound. Dempsey essentially does a watered-down version of Dr. McDreamy. Bridget’s most appealing partner in crime is her daffy female on-air anchor, Miranda (Sarah Solemani). After the two learn that Bridget’s hunky one-night stand is an online dating mogul, they conspire to invite Dempsey on air, during which Miranda hilariously grills him live about his sexual prowess and his sperm count.
What’s really important here is that after a prolonged absence, our heroine remains true to herself. She didn’t turn into a pathetic middle-aged embarrassment or a lip-curling snob. To paraphrase Mark’s winsome pickup line, she’s exactly who she is. That means Bridget can trip headfirst into a mud pit and deliver a eulogy with her self-deprecating pluck intact.
Cheers to Zellweger, who took a six-year absence from the business and returns triumphantly in her signature role. I must admit, diary, after all the photos and reports and columns devoted to her changed physical features, I felt compelled to take a good hard look at her face. As a woman close to Bridget’s age, I kind of hated myself for it. What I saw was a glowing actress who has indeed aged along with everyone else. Maybe it’s the nature of the part, but the Oscar winner has never looked happier.
In fact, I’m convinced Zellweger is in on the secret appeal of Bridget Jones: She may not be a groundbreaking feminist character à la Carrie Bradshaw. There is, however, something infinitely fantastic about revisiting a woman trying to figure it all out as two gorgeous men fight for her affection. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could fall in love because of someone’s imperfections and not in spite of them? That has to be the last word … for now.