It’s probably not even necessary to point out that the romantic comedy, largely absent from screens of late, has seen better days. But, as if we needed another reminder, a sequel from one of the more beloved movies from those better days just showed up. Released in 1999, Bridget Jones’s Diary adapted Helen Fielding’s bestseller about a single Londoner (Renee Zellweger, charmingly abandoning her American accent) and her troubles with alcohol, food, cigarettes, and, especially, men. Specifically, two men: Her caddish boss Daniel (Hugh Grant) and Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), an emotionally reserved barrister.
Its Jane Austen-but-with-shagging-and-an-adult-contemporary-soundtrack comedy of manners won over audiences, but once you send your heroine off toward a happy ending, how do you keep the story going? A 2004 sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, provided a poor answer, stranding Bridget in a Thai prison while letting Daniel and Mark revive their rivalry. If anything, Bridget Jones’s Baby faces an even bigger challenge: How do you get audiences to care about the same heroine going through the same troubles with men 17 years later?
The answer presented by Bridget Jones’s Baby: Give her different problems. Though it opens, like the original, with Bridget alone and listening to “All By Myself,” the new film finds her mostly at peace with being single in her forties. She’s got a cool job producing the nightly news, and hip, thirtysomething friends to make up for the old pack, whom she sees less and less often now that they’ve paired off and started having kids. Daniel’s become a non-issue, having died in a plane crash. As for Mark, he’s out of the picture too, now that he’s married, which stings a bit, but that’s life. All in all, Bridget’s doing fine.
Then life throws her a curveball. First she hooks up with Jack (Patrick Dempsey), an American stranger, at a music festival. (Cue Ed Sheeran cameo.) Then, in short order, she reconnects with Mark, who reveals he’s in the process of separating from his wife, at a christening. The she discovers she’s pregnant. (Spoiler, if you didn’t read the title.)
What follows is kind of pleasant thanks largely to the winning cast — especially in this rom-com-deprived moment. But it’s also predictable, draggy, and suffers whenever the movie tries to present Jack, soon revealed as an internet billionaire responsible for a dating site driven by an allegedly fool-proof algorithm for finding love. Dempsey plays him as a hopeless cheeseball, a handsome goof whose interest in Bridget waxes and wanes whenever the plot requires. As before, she has a choice that’s really no choice at all, but at least Grant made it easy to see why she’d be tempted to stray from the man who’s her obvious one true love.
The script, co-written by Fielding, Dan Mazer, and Emma Thompson (who has a fun role as Bridget’s sour obstetrician), mixes broad comedy, a few sharp lines, and a lot of easy topical-as-of-two-years-ago jokes. (SoulCycle, Pussy Riot, millennials with funny facial hair who use Instagram to take pictures of their lunches: No sacred cow goes untouched here!) Sharon Maguire returns as the director, completing a sense that this is as much a reunion of old friends as a movie that had to happen. And like most reunions, it’s at once awkward, comforting, and ends up feeling like it belongs to another time.