If you were to take a quick overview of the last couple of years at the movies, it might strike you that not only is the silver screen’s condition of sequelitis deteriorating at a rapid rate, but staggeringly so. It seems we’ve moved past the point of simply stretching out for all their worth the franchises of today, and are now resorting to plundering glories past. Last year we had Jurassic World, a trifling 14 years after our third dose of dino action, and Mad Max: Fury Road saw that 14 and raised it 30. This year, we’ve had Independence Day: Resurgence in theatres a good two decades since its iconic predecessor, a remake of The Magnificent Seven (1960) is out next week, and it’s just been announced we can also expect a remake of the Gary Cooper classic High Noon (1952) sometime in the next year or so. If hipsters define themselves as fans of something ‘before they were cool’, Hollywood is rapidly heading towards hipster-icing pretty much the whole of Generation X. And that’s assuming this ‘renaissance’ of the classics does in fact go down in history as ‘cool’.
In the midst of this staggering creative bankruptcy, in this crowded assembly of boisterous, testosterone-filled crowd-pleasers (or at least that’s their aim), one film raises a hesitant, somewhat apologetic, but no less earnest hand in the air to beg our attention. It’s a hand we’ve seen before, certainly, but somehow the familiarity isn’t a turnoff like it is with the others. In appropriate fashion, Bridget Jones has stumbled back into cinemas rather like that awkward moment when you wear a sexy rabbit costume to what turns out not to be a Tarts & Vicars themed party, although the other way round feels more accurate in this instance, ironically. It’s been 12 years since Renee Zellweger’s last outing in the role, but make no mistake. Bridget is still Bridget, and honestly you wouldn’t want it any other way.
A successful job producing a reputable current events TV show, a somewhat reliable circle of friends and that same cosy little flat, life is at least pretty good for Bridget Jones, even if she is turning 43 which does nothing for her anxieties as to her chances of finding love, now that Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) is no longer in the picture. That is, until she meets the dashing Jack Quint (Patrick Dempsey), and reencounters Mark just days later, with both instances leading to amorousness and resulting in a pregnant Bridget with no clue as to which man is the father.
There is a fundamental unoriginality to Bridget Jones’ Baby that is totally understandable for some to take issue with. Another love triangle, the accident-prone existence which Bridget lives, it’s all well tried and tested, so for those seeking a wholly fresh experience at the cinema, seek elsewhere. But whilst this film may not bring an awful lot new to the romantic comedy genre, it certainly more than reminds you of just why we fell in love with that woman in the first place. Bridget Jones’ Baby is an honest and unapologetic embrace of everything that makes Bridget Bridget, and even manages to up the stakes somewhat by virtue of the fact that this time, it’s not just her own life in her hands, but her baby’s as well. Not that you ever doubt that she’ll win out in the end, but it gives you that bit extra of a reason to root for her.
And root you do. Whilst past instalments established Bridget from their outsets as something of an endearing train wreck, this time around you can’t help but smile at just how much of Bridget’s life finally seems to be in place. Her producing career is on fine form, her new best friend Miranda (Sarah Solemani, a regular scene-stealer) is determined to keep her feeling young and enjoy life, she’s as skinny as she’s ever been. She’s just happy, and we feel happy for her. Even as things get complicated with the rampant resurrection of her love life, Bridget never really gives into despair and anxiety as was her tendency in the past, but faces her problems more or less head on (even if her timeliness hasn’t improved much). It would have been all too easy to simply have Bridget be exactly like she was back in 2001, no lessons learned, rough and ready to entertain, but in this case director Sharon Maguire and co. give their audience more credit, and treat us to a somewhat more mature Bridget who genuinely feels the wiser for her experiences. This isn’t to say the film’s humour suffers as a result of an extra sprinkling of maturity, but rather it’s matured in it’s own right (not withstanding a scene of four mountain-climbers mooning on live TV). All the best comedies seem to have some degree of satire in them, and so credit where credit’s due to Bridget Jones’ Baby for at least attempting to note the state of modern media and its increasingly inane discourse, with Bridget having to deal with new (and markedly younger) studio managers at work. For the most part, however, it feels more like the film is just taking a couple of pot shots at the younger generation in the workplace, and the wind of trivial-over-substantive content that’s come with it. Fair’s fair though, it’s not like Millenial-focused features haven’t similarly caricatured their elders.
Sarah Solemani may be the one you’ll remember most walking out of your screening, but that by no means discredits the rest of the talent this film displays through its cast. With no Hugh Grant signed on this time, it falls to franchise newcomer Patrick Dempsey to fulfil the role of ‘the other man’ as a billionaire web mogul, though the film resists cliche renditions of such a character by making Jack a genuinely likeable guy. He’s sweet, earnest, dedicated (ladies kindly ration your ‘awws’ for when Jack ‘fast-forwards’ through the rituals of a modern relationship’s early days). He’s every bit the Mr Right who Bridget thinks she has been looking for, but whilst at times he borders on ‘too’ perfect, the film allows him just a discernible amount of flaws to keep him realistic and relatable. We get cameos from characters past, from friends Shazzer (Sally Phillips) and Jude (Shirley Henderson) to family (Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent), but really these characters amount to little more than cameos and are a testament to the film’s resisting the urge to plunder nostalgia. Emma Thompson, always sensational, is wonderfully dry as the doctor who finds herself abetting Bridget’s efforts to keep both prospective fathers in the dark about each other, and has there ever been a bad word been said about Colin Firth in any role? I’m certainly not going to start now, the man stepping back into Mark Darcy’s shoes as if no time had passed at all (notwithstanding a few grey hairs). Although, admittedly, watching Mark’s behaviour towards Bridget at times can evoke the idea of an incredibly well-mannered Christian Grey. What’s more, this is the second time a character of Firth’s has had to deal with possible prospective fatherhood. As typecasting goes…it’s different.
Bottom line (no pun intended, as much as this is a Bridget Jones flick), this is a film clearly made for longtime fans of the film series, more than enjoyable for newcomers to Bridget’s mishaps, but more fully appreciable to pre-existing audiences, as opposed to just a by-the-numbers romcom with some brand recognition slapped on. It isn’t perfect, by any means, but then that’s always been the point of these stories anyway. 2016’s been a bit of a rough year for Britain, culturally-speaking, and so perhaps a factor in the film’s charm is just how well it’s able to transport you back to the days of Notting Hill and Love Actually, a reminder of how surprisingly romantic London can be on film. At a time of borderline sequel-overload, we truly have missed you Bridget Jones.
Final Score: 3.5/5