For many, Bridget Jones’s Diary is a time capsule to the turn of the century. A time when nineties liberation met noughties cynicism, and where the romantic dream was drifting further and further out of reach. Bridget was the perfect antidote for an increasingly alienated generation of movie goers. A story about a serial misfit who managed to find her own happy ending regardless, Bridget Jones was a rallying cry for the eternally downtrodden. The third instalment in the series was welcomed with open arms by those of us desperate to follow her lead and escape from the doldrums of middle class Britain – but does Bridget Jones’s Baby sacrifice a fearless independence to gain that elusive happy ending?
For a series centred around a woman finding personal happiness in spite of society’s aesthetic demands, it was disheartening to find much of the pre-release discussion for Bridget Jones’s Baby focusing on Renée Zellweger’s rumoured cosmetic surgery. Even her former co-star Hugh Grant saw fit to chime in with a cruel jibe on US TV. It would be a lie to say that the change isn’t noticeable, but no more so than the obvious signs that twelve years have passed for Colin Firth too since the last movie. If anything, these cosmetic changes are proof that – as much as Hollywood is loath to admit it – older women are more than capable of leading a mainstream movie with aplomb.
We rejoin Bridget on her 43rd birthday, where she isn’t so much celebrating as drowning her sorrows to the sound of some nineties anthems. In the twelve years since we last met her she’s gone through relationship breakdowns, career upswings, and losing her friends to the abyss of parenthood. Though her battle with her scales is well and truly won, an even greater worry is creeping up on her – ageing.
To convince her that she is still in the prime of her life, Bridget’s co-worker Miranda (a scene stealing Sarah Solemani) drags her to a music festival where she ends up in a drunken encounter with billionaire businessman Jack Quant (Patrick Dempsey). Within days of this dalliance, she beds her old flame Mark at a christening. But in true Hollywood fashion, her run of luck ends when she discovers that she is expecting, with no clue which of her lovers fathered the child.
For a movie about pregnancy, possibly the single most boring and overdone subject in film, Bridget Jones’s Baby manages to create something entirely fresh and thoroughly enjoyable. In fact, Baby even manages to tread new ground with the tired who’s-the-father cliché. For a start there’s an invigorating absence of slut-shaming. Whilst the way Bridget deals with the situation leaves a lot to be desired, neither Mark nor Jack take umbrage at the fact that she slept with both of them within a matter of days. Equally satisfying is the lack of pre-natal panicking from Bridget – at no point does she feel inadequate for the role of mother, nor does she feel she has to attach herself to either of the men simply to provide a father figure for the child.
That’s not to say that she isn’t spoilt for choice with the two guys on offer. Dempsey’s Jack Quant is sweet (if underdeveloped) and thankfully he isn’t undermined by any attempt to recreate the Darcy/Cleaver rivalry of earlier days. As always Colin Firth plays Mark Darcy, the stoic lawyer with a passionate heart, to perfection. Even a gag about Gangnam Style, which in other hands would be a spectacular misfire, somehow manages to be genuinely funny by playing on Darcy’s endearing awkwardness.
It’s tempting to try and read too much into Bridget Jones’s Baby; to try and find a deeper meaning behind the paternity drama and relationship struggles. Don’t waste your time – Bridget Jones is an unabashed fairytale. Yes, it often verges on cheesy. Yes, in the real world Bridget’s behaviour would probably be enough to make Mark Darcy run for the hills. But what the series has always excelled in is creating its own little bubble within the real world. It is, and always has been, sheer escapism to a land where a single woman can afford a London apartment, and where knights in shining armour very much exist.
If you’re looking for unpredictability, you’re in the wrong place. That there’ll be a deliriously happy ending is a given before you’ve even bought your ticket. Yet it’s exactly this innate sense of warmth and familiarity which makes watching a Bridget Jones movie as comfortable as putting on an old pair of slippers. You know exactly what you’re going to get, so you can just switch your mind off for two hours and bask in the film’s inescapable warm glow.
If anything does leave a sour taste in the mouth, it’s the slightly disconcerting sensation that we may well be losing our Bridget to the insufferable plague of “smug marrieds” whom she for so long was a much needed antidote to. Her rag-tag group of loyal, foul-mouthed friends who guided her through the romantic pitfalls of Diary are, within the first twenty-five minutes of Baby, eroded into a practically interchangeable bunch with identical priorities – steady relationships and parenthood.
As the credits roll, we’re left with a bittersweet feeling that our beloved, perpetually offbeat heroine has finally – at the age of 43 – grown up. Perhaps this is just a reflection of the sad truth we try to avoid; the reality that we must at some stage put the follies of youth behind us and become a respectable, ordinary member of society. But for a series which has always challenged the conventions of middle class mediocrity, is it too much to ask that we be thrown a shred of hope that we can remain unique, however unrealistic it may be?