Did you ever read Bridget Jones’s Diary? It’s fantastic. A friend gave me the book, by Helen Fielding, for my birthday back when it first came out, and I had no idea what it was. But when I read the line “It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr. Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party,” I was hooked. The plot is the plot of Pride and Prejudice but the voice is that of a single woman struggling with all the 1990s pressures of work, losing weight, and finding romance in a culture that considered you pathetic if you hit 30 without being married. (It also contains the single best description of working at home ever written, which I related to back then and we can ALL relate to now.)
Before Bridget Jones became a movie, Fielding had written a sequel, which wasn’t as good as the first book but did have a hilarious little plotline about Bridget, a hapless writer/reporter, scoring an interview with Colin Firth, spending the entire time pathetically fangirling about his wet shirt scene in 1995’s Pride and Prejudice miniseries–and then accidentally running the cringeworthy interview word for word. So when it was announced that Colin Firth would play Mark Darcy in the Bridget Jones movie, the sheer meta-ness of it broke everyone’s brains. I’ve even come across people who think he’s better as Mark than as the original Mr. Darcy, wet shirt be damned.
I still believe a British actress or twenty could’ve been cast as Bridget and done an amazing job, but Renée Zellweger made the part her own. And if Kate Winslet can play Americans, Zellweger can play a Brit. It’s only fair.
In other words, translating the book to screen was a success; the first Bridget Jones movie was great. We all loved Bridget, we all loved Mark. We all loved Bridget’s parents because Jim Broadbent and Gemma Jones can do no wrong. And we all REALLY loved the realistically ridiculous fight between Mark and Hugh Grant’s Daniel Cleaver. Alas, the second film was an even less worthy successor than the second book. The best scene in it was a retread of Mark and Daniel fighting, but the less said about The Edge of Reason, the better.
The Bridget Jones movie series, as a result, lay fallow for years. Zellweger’s career also went underground during that time. When a third movie was announced, the public’s reaction ranged from “why?” to “meh.” Everybody thought Zellweger was retired. Hugh Grant declined to reprise his role as Daniel. Patrick Dempsey was cast instead as a rival for Mark. Bridget was to be saddled with a pregnancy, the most clichéd of plotlines for women. All in all, it was hard to understand why anyone would make this film.
We were all wrong. In fact, Bridget Jones’s Baby is a lovely little film. Bridget is 43 and actually seems like it. Her crushing self-doubt and imposter syndrome are gone–she’s grown into her TV production career, stopped obsessing about her weight, and even quit cigarettes after years as a chain smoker. She no longer considers couplehood to be a symbol of success and adulthood, and defines herself as her own person instead of someone’s girlfriend. When facing a birthday alone, she puts on House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and joyfully dances through her apartment rather than drunkenly sobbing to “All By Myself” like she did in the first movie. She’s matured. It’s fantastic to see–most popular comedic characters aren’t allowed to grow and change, let alone change into unmarried middle-aged women. I credit Sharon Maguire’s direction for painting a picture of a fully realized forty-something woman who isn’t somebody’s bitchy boss or somebody’s mother.
Oh, wait, that baby thing. Well, yes, Bridget gets pregnant. It’s not as treacly as I expected, though. She goes to the Glastonbury Festival to snap out of her funk over Daniel Cleaver’s presumed death and meeting Mark Darcy’s wife at the funeral. A 43-year-old at Glastonbury is kind of ridiculous, and the movie treats it that way. Even Bridget knows she’s too old. Still, she’s here to have fun and do whatever she wants. That includes having a one-night stand with Patrick Dempsey in a luxury yurt, because, yes, that’s what a single middle-aged woman would want to do, given the chance.
Back in her normal life, Bridget attends a christening where she’s forced to share godparent duties with Mark Darcy. She’ll never stop smarting from the dissolution of their relationship, but unlike the Bridget of old, she controls her emotions, behaves normally, and manages to have a good time. Again, it’s refreshing to see such a grown-up version of the perennially messy Bridget. Mark, though, isn’t quite so together. He’s going through a divorce and can’t keep himself away from his old flame. Finding it out, Bridget offers him an “I’m sorry,” and she means it. She’s truly sorry that he’s in pain. I’m running out of ways to show that she’s grown as a person, but this is another one.
Anyway, soon enough the two are in bed and suffice it to say that Zellweger and Firth have incredible chemistry. That hasn’t changed. It’s nice to see older versions of this couple still generating the same heat. Their first kiss at the end of Bridget Jones’s Diary is cinema legend, but their first kiss after years apart in Bridget Jones’s Baby is just as hot. They’re the loves of each other’s life and it shows.
Bridget broke up with Mark for a reason, though, and that reason is still there. He’s a workaholic and his law career always came first. Mark is ready to fall right back into a relationship, but Bridget has too much self-respect. She leaves before he wakes up and goes on with her life. This is amazing. It’s groundbreaking. Not only for Bridget–whose entire cinematic existence has revolved around her desperate pursuit of love–but for the movie itself. It’s not just a mature Bridget, it’s a mature plotline. She chooses to be alone rather than to be with a lover who doesn’t put her first.
It’s like Madonna told us. Respect yourself.
When Bridget falls pregnant, as the Brits say, it’s because she used the the eco-friendly condoms in the bottom of her purse when sleeping with Dempsey’s Jack and also with Mark. Still our hapless heroine, even if version 2.0, Bridget finds herself in the ludicrous situation of not knowing who the father is. But she’s nearing the end of her childbearing years and takes the pregnancy as an unexpected gift. She doesn’t need either man to support her, she simply feels that they should know about the baby. So her younger best friend–a replacement of sorts for the best friends who aren’t as available anymore due to having families of their own–helps her track down her one night stand.
Jack, of course, is the perfect man, even if he is from the U.S. He’s an entrepreneur, he’s fabulously wealthy, he’s good with kids, he’s smitten with Bridget and thrilled to find her again after their Glastonbury tryst, and he wants them to be a couple and have a family. Mark is also thrilled, but in his very quiet, proper, British way. He leaves the room to compose himself when he first finds out Bridget is pregnant, and having gathered his feelings, admits that he’s never been so happy about anything.
Poor Mark. His world is thrown into disarray when he learns he might not be the father. Refreshingly, nobody tries to slut-shame Bridget even a little. Mark and Jack embark on a faux-friendly rivalry throughout the pregnancy, but Jack is the better man in almost every way–he’s more available, more sensitive and responsive to Bridget’s needs, more comfortable expressing himself. In short, he’s more of a touchy-feely American. Mark just doesn’t know how to shake his stiff upper lip. Bridget, torn between the two, knows what she gets with Mark. Jack offers what she WANTS.
This is the grown-up Bridget, though. Her focus is on the pregnancy, not the men. She lets them snipe and argue and doesn’t get pulled into it. Even when Mark walks away from the situation, conceding defeat to Jack, Bridget is okay. Instead, her low points come from being overwhelmed by pregnancy brain and struggling with a young boss who wants to make Bridget’s TV show more tabloidy. When she hits rock bottom, Mark shows up to save her as we all knew he would, but this time we also know she’d get through it even if he didn’t. By the end, the three have reached a very adult friendship through the shared experience of pregnancy and childbirth, and Bridget finally gets her happily ever after. For his part, Mark has realized, after two failed marriages and a failed engagement to Bridget, that he needs to prioritize his own happiness over his career.
The point is, you can be over 40 and still have shit to learn, my friends.
This being a romantic comedy, there’s plenty of fun. Two men trying to carry a heavily pregnant woman to the hospital is surprisingly humorous when it’s treated realistically instead of romantically. (And when there’s a revolving door in the way.) Emma Thompson appears as Bridget’s OB and I feel like I don’t have to tell you how bitingly funny her annoyance at all the nonsense is. Bridget’s friends and coworkers are wacky and lovely in equal measures, and even Patrick Dempsey elevates the movie. In a film with so many Oscar winners, you’d think a TV actor might be out of his depth, but he’s charming and funny and understands that he’s there to be almost-but-not-quite a caricature. Zellweger had lost none of her step as an actor, which she proved a few years later by roaring back to Hollywood to win another Academy Award.
Sharon Maguire directed the first Bridget Jones movie, and the fact that she took the helm again for this one is the secret of its success. Maguire is a friend of Helen Fielding’s, and she’s the basis for one of the characters in the book. That personal understanding undoubtedly helped her create a movie-Bridget as endearing as book-Bridget always was. She got Bridget as a young singleton, but she also gets that nobody in their 40s is the same person they used to be. A lot of directors would try to recreate the magic of the original, but Maguire held Bridget in too high esteem to trap her in the mindset of her 1990s self. Instead she made the excellent choice to treat this movie as a sweet, small film rather than a big commercial comedy (the mistake Edge of Reason made). It’s grounded in character, and the characters are treated with respect. I don’t think anyone expected much of Bridget Jones’s Baby, but–if you’ll excuse the pun–it delivered.