Bridget Jones’s Baby, the third movie in the series based on Helen Fielding’s comic novels, is the kind of sequel that wants to get a laugh by firing up a song cue before the credits even roll. The song in question is “All By Myself,” used in the first Bridget Jones film, but Baby has plenty of others to choose from. Sure enough, it switches to a different kind of gag tune shortly after a few bars, having Bridget (Renée Zellweger) jump around her apartment to the strains of, yes, “Jump Around” by House Of Pain.
Relying heavily on soundtrack cuts chosen almost exclusively from wedding-reception songs and easy-listening hits is a Bridget Jones series signature, along with glacial pacing and poorly staged slapstick. Baby eases up on the latter, and in doing so immediately outclasses the wretched second film, 2004’s Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason. Perpetually lovelorn single gal Bridget downplays some of her personal trademarks, too: She maintains a somewhat higher level of confidence, and she notes in a diary entry that she has reached her “ideal weight.”
In other words, 12 years have elapsed since the last Bridget Jones movie. A skinnier, more put-together Bridget isn’t necessarily a more interesting character; she’s a little more Sex And The City this time out, however incrementally. But that passage of time and her relative maturity at least gives this new installment a nominal reason to exist, even if Baby still manages to rehash bits from the original, most notably in the relationship between Bridget and her stuffy on-and-off beau Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). It didn’t have to be this way. The third Bridget Jones novel (not credited as the basis for the screenplay) includes the revelation that Darcy has died in between books, but the movie swaps corpses with another character in order to make Darcy one of two possible fathers when Bridget finds herself pregnant at 43.
Bridget and Mark have been apart for years when they reunite at a christening, just a week after Bridget’s one-night stand with laid-back dating-site guru Jack (Patrick Dempsey) at a music festival where most of the acts also draw from a master playlist of wedding songs. Dempsey, bless his blandly handsome heart, confirms his astonishing inability to perform convincing rom-com banter; when he quips, he sounds as if he’s reading off of an all-caps cue card. But he does at least provide a different third point for the Bridget-Mark-whoever love triangle, freeing Hugh Grant of that particular obligation.
Bridget proceeds to bumble through her pregnancy, as well as assorted professional and familial mini-dramas, and the movie contrives to keep the father’s identity unconfirmed until the last few minutes. None of this is more than mildly funny, save for the deadpan OB/GYN played by co-screenwriter Emma Thompson, who ascends to lofty heights of amusing. But it’s not unpleasant to watch, especially with an appealingly warm color scheme courtesy of returning director Sharon Maguire and returning cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (Blackhat). They both worked on the likable first film and not the lumpy second.
That’s the best that can be said about Bridget Jones’s Baby: It is a much better follow-up to the original than The Edge Of Reason, the events of which have now been rendered even more moot than they already were. Zellweger shows that she can still play this part with charm, gamely keeping up as the movie keeps jumping ahead in her nine-month ordeal. Anyone hoping for memorable Bridget descriptions of pregnancy pains will find instead cheap quasi-topical buzzwords: Glamping! Cougar! Hashtag! And wait until audiences see this movie’s satirical take on hipsters: They often have beards! (A stranger foray into quasi-topicality finds the movie making fun of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot for some reason.) Then again, the Bridget Jones series is long past attempting to capture any kind of twentysomething, thirtysomething, or fortysomething zeitgeist. This is a third helping of comfort food, lukewarm but edible for anyone in the mood.