As far as I’m concerned, Fielding had a duty to write a laugh-out-loud book about a female protagonist who’s in her 50s and fumbling realistically in a new stage of her life. I’m 30 and I hardly ever feel like I know what I’m doing. And I doubt that will change much in 20 years. Mid-life crisis Bridget is my future, or at least more likely than the standard Earth Mother or disenchanted adulteress. There is a gaping space for her in popular literature; and when I first heard about the sequel, I secretly hoped for a Bridget story so irresistible that the gang would come back together for movie #3.
So, back in 2013, I was sent a complimentary copy of the most recent Bridget Jones novel, Mad About the Boy. I read it. And then I reviewed it, to save anyone else who had an affection for the British singleton from doing so themselves. I am not being at all dramatic when I say that I hated every moment of it. It was a tone-deaf insult to everything I’d ever loved about the first two books and about their leading lady in general. Pushing aside for the moment that writer Helen Fielding MURDERED MARK FITZWILLIAM DARCY, Mad About the Boy celebrated a nasty, ignorant Bridget Jones who ignored her children, exhibited little self respect, and showed a shocking lack of growth for a character who’s tripped over as many things as she has. So when it became apparent that they really WERE going forward with a third Bridget movie, I was not the excited, nostalgic fan the marketing team was probably hoping for.
With trepidation comes the opportunity for a great and welcome surprise. Guys, Bridget Jones’s Baby is so god damn wonderful. I’m glad those Suicide Squad reddit fanboys didn’t succeed in their moronic efforts to shut down Rotten Tomatoes, because I probably wouldn’t have bought a ticket for this movie without that Certified Fresh rating.
The first place the production went right was in retconning Mad About the Boy completely. If there’s a script for that adaptation lying around somewhere, I hereby give Hugh Grant full Head Over Feels authority to use it to light a fire in one of his country homes. Anyway, MARK DARCY LIVES. And he’s STILL FINE. Bridget Jones’s Baby is loosely based on some of Fielding’s newspaper columns, but introduces a new main character in Jack Qwant, an American matchmaking millionaire played by post-Derek Shepherd Patrick Dempsey and the second possible father for Bridge’s unborn child. Better than all of that, Bridget is the girl I remember, but with an actual emotional memory.
In an opening scene that sets the tone for the movie, Bridget listens to her obligatory sad-girl anthem and blows out the single candle on her birthday cupcake. But when she realizes that she’s wallowing, she flips it right off. This is a person who has survived her 20s and her 30s. She’s been through heartbreak and great love and job changes and American stick insects. And she can be alone with herself without feeling like a total loser. Listen, I love my friends more than anything on this planet, but alone-time is a real close second. Tell me if I missed it, but I don’t believe Bridget uttered the s-word (“spinster”) even once in this movie. Spinsterhood isn’t a fact; it’s a state of mind. And though Bridget Jones wouldn’t mind getting some birthday action, she’s also not willing to submit to a relationship that’s less than ideal.
In fact, doesn’t it seem like Bridget did the dumping of perfect specimen Mark Darcy? Like his Jane Austen avatar, Mark Darcy is, in stark reality, less than perfect. Every Fitzwilliam in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a Lizzy to lighten him the hell up. And every Mark needs a Bridge to do the same. But Mark evidently assumed that Bridget would always be there when he got home; he let their love fern die, for lack of a better reference.
I love that Bridget Jones’s Baby shows Bridget kicking ass in a job of substance. The news program she produces has a hint of crassness to it, but it’s mostly of a serious nature. And isn’t that just our heroine in a nutshell? She may not be freeing political prisoners on the daily, but her career is important too. She still made time for Mark, and my girl deserved the same consideration in return. She’s walked away from him before, for reasons of misunderstanding and for reasons of Daniel Cleaver. But when Bridget leaves Mark alone after their ex-sex, she does it for reasons of self-preservation. I question the sanity of any sexual being who wouldn’t fall into Mr. Darcy’s bed on a night like that, but Bridget is too big a girl to let the D derail her completely. He needs to change, and she is a full person without him. Forever, if need be.
But this is a romantic comedy, so the muses (directed by co-writer Emma Thompson, no doubt) have monogamous, hetero- happiness in store. (A ROMANTIC COMEDY, PRAISE JESUS.) That alone is not revolutionary. But take into account the age of our protagonist and her cinematic journey and suddenly it’s pretty meaningful. Though there WERE age jokes of a certain variety in this movie, Bridget was never portrayed as a depressing old maid or sexual relic. She catches looks while she walks down the street. She has a new youth friend who thinks she’s pretty fabulous. (Miranda, you can stay.) Her coworkers celebrate her birthday with love and enthusiasm, not as a joke. Sure, this slimmed-down Bridget is a result of Renee Zellweger ixnaying the rapid weight gain and loss that she’s usually undertaken for this part. But in the story, it reads as maturity and acceptance. Once Bridget stopped obsessing over her weight, she settled into a healthy body. (Friendly reminder that Mark Darcy had a high regard for her “wobbly bits” anyway.) Let it never be said that Zellweger can’t sell a prat fall. But my greatest fear for a middle-age Bridget was that a movie (like that book that shouldn’t exist) would laugh at her as she endeavored unsuccessfully to recapture her youth. Jack and Mark are vibrant, brilliant people who do things with their lives. We don’t see them longing for their 20s. Bridget is afforded the same courtesy. I’d expect no less from a lady screenwriter and director.
There’s still an element of fantasy in this story, thank god. Most of us don’t attract eye-crinkly gods like Jack Qwant by falling ass over tit into a mud pile. The movies have the monopoly on that. But Jack and Bridget’s hook-up is mercifully hot and born of a mutual spark. No blind drunkenness (well, on his side), no mistaken identity. He just wants her; and it’s shot just like it would be if Zellweger were 22. Anyway, why shouldn’t she still be portrayed as desirable? Colin Firth and Patrick Dempsey are no spring chickens, and they get lit and framed like Vogue cover girls. As they should be. With their powers combined, my motor skills suffered and I stumbled like a baby deer out of that theater. Worth it.
All of this is in complete contrast to the negative character development and uneven plotting that happened in that awful, AWFUL novel. I won’t spoil the rest of the movie for you, but suffice it to say that Mark Darcy is NOT killed by a roadside bomb. There are other surprises too wonderful to ruin; one rights the movie’s only wrong in its final moments. The script is peppered with throwback gags but not overwhelmed by them. (“Come the fuck on, Bridget!”) Shazzer, Jude, and even lovely, slutty Tom have settled down, but continue to live vicariously through their bestie. And the elder Joneses are right where we left them: with mum running the show.
In Bridget’s first two big screen outings, she was always chasing something, whether it was a guy or just a sense of self. In Bridget Jones’s Baby, she’s done with all that. Shit happens and she deals with it and yes, there’s the traditional happy romantic ending. But before Bridget got that happy ending, she got HAPPY. Just on her own. Just as she is. And in the process, I was reminded why I fell in love with this character in the first place.