Initially, prospects for the third installment in the Bridget Jones franchise seemed slim. The opening scene feels like déjà vu, recalling the whiny self-pity that characterized Bridget in the earlier movies. Separated from old beaus Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver for five years, Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger, “Jerry Maguire”), sits solo on her sofa, blaring “All By Myself” as she blows out a candle on her 43rd birthday.
But then she voices what we all want to say. “Fuck off!” she shouts, switching the channel to House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and wildly dancing and lip-syncing in her bedroom. And with that, the tone is set for a surprisingly funny romp through the uncharted territory that is unconventionally-led middle-aged life. Her bumbling antics tamed by the years, Bridget now works as a producer at a television news show with her best friend. Soon, she finds herself pregnant and wondering who the father is: the hip American dating website mogul Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey, “Grey’s Anatomy”), or the very stoic, very English Mark Darcy (Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”) — an increasingly important question once she finds herself falling for both.
Bridget retains just enough irreverence to make her and her group of rabble-rousing friends feel refreshing. She battles the realities of growing older, learning to work with a new, younger boss and the “bearded hipsters” that helm her show’s rebranding and showing up at a music festival in kitten heels with a rolling suitcase in tow. The intergenerational comedy feels slightly stiff, but still merits laughs, never reaching wine-mom-on-Facebook level out of touch.
The shining supporting cast is the heart of the movie. Her wisecracking gynecologist (Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr. Banks”) is the comedic star, helping Bridget balance the two-father dilemma she strings along. Firth’s expert reprisal of Darcy shines, his longstanding work with the character resulting in a wealth of emotions simmering behind guarded eyes. Gemma Jones (“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”) and Jim Broadbent (“Iris”) return to play her parents campaigning for public office in a more progressive era. A cameo by Ed Sheeran and a Pussy Riot-esque protest group add just enough silliness to the mix.
Now, Bridget’s concerns actually feel validated. In previous films, Bridget’s character felt like a caricature of single womanhood — self-pity without improvement and clumsiness pushed to the extreme for quirk factor alone. Rather than bemoaning being alone, she struggles to figure out which of her suitors is a better fit for her. Darcy’s aloofness once felt charming, but now that he’s older, Bridget expresses concern that he can’t offer the emotional support she needs. Instead of expecting a knight in shining armor to solve her problems, she looks inward to bettering herself and focuses on what’s best for her baby.
In a particularly heart-wrenching scene, she sobs to the baby in her belly, “I’m sorry. I promised I would get this sorted out before you came, and I didn’t. But we can figure it out.” It’s a sight we’ve seen before: Bridget soaking wet in the rain, wallowing in her self-created downfall after losing her phone, keys and bag. But despite endless weakly formed promises, this one feels genuine. Three films later, we finally want to root for her happily-ever-after, because for once, she’s the one creating it.