Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016)

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“How in the hell did I end up here again?”

Once you look past the egregious typo in the title and the intermittent phoniness of Bridget Jones’s Diary (it literally pains me to tack on the unnecessary apostrophe s at the end there), you’re left with the film equivalent of trifle. Tart, zany and different, unusually concocted but easily devoured. The layers of sponge cake soaking up the confections. And that’s what makes this crumbling, messy, occasionally cacophony film work on one lovable level. There’s no need to explore the darkness of the crawl space or the dust in the attic when the ground floor is this accessible and inviting. Bridget Jones’s Diary is as imperfect as its protagonist, and somehow just as charming.

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An early address dispatches previous lover Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) at his own funeral, where Bridget (Renée Zellweger) conveniently runs into Mr. Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) after a long spell. Recently turned 43, she’s a news producer and self-appointed spilf – spinster + milf – looking to settle down for good. Who to choose? Her right hand man is the recently divorced Darcy. On the left is billionaire mogul Jack (Patrick Dempsey) who she sleeps with at a music festival. Then once she finds out she’s pregnant, “relations” with both men leave her confused as to who is the father. Sometimes you get more than what you asked for.

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Two major storylines keep the franchise’s third installment from being a knockout romantic comedy. A new, young, bitchy boss doesn’t add the millennial divide that it clearly is set in place for. There’s already enough going on and the story requires no further drama. At over two hours, the film needed this section to be cut. But what’s really afoul is Bridget’s relationship with Jack. Like his name, he’s a man of all trades, so clearly too good to be true that it’s instantly impossible to believe just how preposterous he is. Dempsey sells that character well with his silver fox looks, granted he’s not asked to do much more than make women swoon with a smile. The role belongs in the clouds. Thankfully back on Earth – in a believable reality – the story finds earnest love, even if by then it’s a little behind schedule.

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Zellweger, whose swell voice-over sounds like a merry book on tape, is less constricted by her surroundings this time. There’s the occasional jab here and there, but she’s in charge of her story. It also helps to have Firth back in the saddle. His brooding English manner and longing eyes serve as a spark for realistic romance. What really makes Sharon Maguire’s film so fun despite its off-kilter material is its willing eccentricity. Most movies vastly overvalue the tactic; Maguire tempers it. Bridget Jones’s Baby can be summed up as daytime talk show host Maury’s worst nightmare. These men rarely put themselves first, and their shared affinity for our leading lady frees her of worry. Either man might be the dad, so even though it’s a coin toss and Bridget clearly leans towards one outcome, neither is unfavorable. I imagine them onstage, Maury waving that manila envelope, then pulling out the paper and saying, “You’re….NOT the father.” It’d be undramatic, even comical, because unlike that show’s guests, the story respects the gift of life by being selfless. Perhaps Bridget Jones’s Baby comes to us since gifts are best shared.

“I promise I’ll try my best.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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