What a treat it is to dive back into the cozy world of Bridget Jones, who is the kind of old friend you can pick up with right where it left off, no matter how long it’s been. “Bridget Jones’s Baby” opens with a familiar scene for our pal: Bridget (Renee Zellweger) celebrating her birthday alone to the tune of “All By Myself,” blowing out a candle on a single cupcake, guzzling white wine in her jammies. The pity party’s over soon enough though, as she skips the song and boogies instead to “Jump Around.” Has Bridget Jones gotten her groove back?
She does, in fact, have a groove, perhaps for the first time. She’s a producer on the television program “Hard News,” still has her great group of friends, even though they’re now all saddled with kids, and has achieved her ideal weight. But Bridget’s always been one for self-improvement, so when it comes to her love life, she’s is determined to make new mistakes, not old ones.
Jack Quant (Patrick Dempsey), an American tech billionaire who has leveraged his match-making algorithm into a successful dating app, is the perfect new mistake, as opposed to old mistake Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), the fussbudget workaholic lawyer with whom things never worked out. Good thing Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) isn’t in the picture this time around.
Bridget has a tendency to self-sabotage her romances, but biology doesn’t let her off the hook this time, and at 43, she finds herself with child. Just who else is also with child in this scenario — Jack or Mark — is the question that’s up for debate in the film.
While the neuroses of “Bridget Jones” have always been about bodies, “Baby” releases her from this anxiety and flips the script, letting Bridget reclaim the power of her own body. “Weight: who cares?” she types in her ubiquitous diary around Christmastime, when she’s rounding the bend on nine months pregnant. She grew a human with that body.
Part of what’s so refreshing about “Bridget Jones’s Baby” is that at 43, Bridget is effortlessly desirable, sexy, adventurous and yes, adorable. The film just assumes this as fact, balancing Bridget’s wryly self-deprecating inner monologue alongside the external perspective that sees her for the fetching beauty that she is. Zellweger plays Bridget just as charmingly as she always has — flawed but endearing; just right in her own idiosyncratic way.
This relatable (if somewhat aspirational) character comes not just from Zellweger’s performance, but also from the assured direction of Sharon Maguire, who helmed “Bridget Jones’s Diary” in 2001, as well as the fast, fresh, and very funny screenplay. “Jones” author Helen Fielding collaborated with Dan Mazer and British national treasure Emma Thompson (who also plays Bridget’s ob-gyn) on the script. The jokes reference beloved scenes from the first film, but it never feels like a re-hash of old material (they even manage to draw laughs from a dated reference to “Gangnam Style”).
Yet it feels current because they’ve allowed the character to grow. She’s still awkward and prone to embarrassing foibles, but is older, wiser, comfortable in her own skin. Shockingly, it seems as though Bridget has learned to live in the moment. As Bridget Jones discovers her own kind of zen, it makes for a third installment that proves to be v.v. satisfying.
Cast: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey, Emma Thompson, Shirley Henderson, Jim Broadbent.
Director: Sharon Maguire.
Screenwriters: Emma Thompson, Helen Fielding, Dan Mazer.
A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 122 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations. Playing at area theaters.