Twelve years after Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, was anyone holding their breath for another installment in the singleton's saga? But in the interim, something a little scary has happened: The ailing romantic-comedy genre has been squeezed out of our theaters to make room for more superheroes and stoner comedies.
That, if nothing else, is a reason to welcome back Renée Zellweger's unfailingly droll and committed performance. Bridget Jones has one great advantage over the standard late-period rom-com heroine: She isn't afraid to embarrass herself.
Even now that she has a tony job as producer of a TV chat show, Bridget conceals the heart of a hedonistic slob beneath her designer ensembles. It's easy to see why the love of her life, the high-minded, humorless barrister Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), can't quite bring himself to quit or commit to her. Bumbling and blustering, Zellweger gives the character an enthusiasm — and, yes, a desperation — that's oddly endearing.
As for the film itself, under the direction of Sharon Maguire, who kicked off the trilogy with Bridget Jones's Diary, it's slackly paced and overlong. Still, there are bright spots of hilarity. The conceit is simple and foolproof: Bridget takes the same slapdash yet good-hearted approach to pregnancy and motherhood that she takes to everything else.
Separated from Darcy when the film opens, our heroine seizes the opportunity for an ardent reunion with him at a friend's christening. When Bridget finds herself in an interesting condition, there's a hitch: Her supercilious OB-GYN (Emma Thompson, a pleasure) can't pin down the date of conception. The baby's father could be Darcy, or it could be millionaire online-dating entrepreneur Jack (Patrick Dempsey), with whom Bridget had a fling at a music festival. And, it turns out, both men are eager to start playing the daddy role. What's a fortysomething girl to do?
To the film's credit, Bridget quickly comes clean with both her suitors, rather than drawing out a tedious series of deceptions and misunderstandings. Instead of trying to convince each man he's the only one she slept with, she weighs how much of a role to give each in her child's life.
The problem is, her conflict never feels remotely authentic, because Jack is a fantasy of laid-back, affluent awesomeness, not a character. It's never clear why he's so keen on Bridget; the film's writers (Helen Fielding, Dan Mazer and Thompson) seem to have conceived him as McDreamy in England and left it at that. A scene where he tells a crucial lie — showing potential for a dark side — has no payoff.
In indulging the soft-focus fantasy of a choice between two handsome, wealthy, adoring men, Bridget Jones's Baby reminds us why Hollywood rom-coms are dying: They lost their connection to reality. Bridget's romance with Darcy was always a bit of wish fulfillment, wryly presented as such via the casting of Firth, Bridget's celebrity crush in Fielding's best seller. Here, though, rather than gently satirizing their heroine's romantic imaginings, the filmmakers fall back on tired filler gags about millennial hipsters and on-air mishaps.
A franker, tougher approach to Bridget's situation — which includes a looming threat of unemployment — might have yielded a darker, funnier film. There's a reason that today's best rom-coms come from TV and indie production companies: They're not afraid to follow the lead of female comedians who have their doubts about the "happily ever after" template. It's hard not to root for Bridget Jones to get her very own picture-perfect happy ending. But let's hope that, having granted it to her (and I'm not spoiling much here, believe me), Hollywood will let her rest.