By Bill Wine
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Bridget Jones fans jonesing for another movie about her are, for the first time in well over a decade, about to get their wish.
Bridget Jones’s Baby follows 2001’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and 2004’s “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” to the movie marketplace. And given the weakness of the first sequel, this second sequel registers not as a triumph, but at least as a comeback.
When Texan Renee Zellweger was originally cast as the titular British bachelorette, the endearingly hapless heroine of Helen Fielding’s runaway international best-seller, it got a lot of folks’ – mostly British folks’ – panties in a bunch.
How could, they asked, this iconic London “singleton” not be portrayed by a Brit?
But Zellweger held her charming own and even received an Oscar nomination for the role, the franchise did business, and now here we are with a second sequel.
In the 2001 original, director Sharon Maguire (Incendiary), with a background in documentaries and music videos, tried to get us to laugh with Bridget more than we were laughing at her as she found herself the apex in a romantic triangle of embarrassment.
All of that is equally true of Bridget Jones’s Baby as well, although Maguire did not direct the sorry first sequel, Bridget is no longer the compulsive diarist she then was, and the triangle includes at least one new angle.
Older but not necessarily wiser, fortysomething-and-still-single Bridget, now at her ideal weight and working as the executive producer of a nightly television news show, continues to seek contentment, clarity, self-esteem, sobriety, and Mr. Right. But she still tends to say or do the wrong thing at the wrong time and she still gets annoyingly disapproving telephone messages from her mum.
With Hugh Grant’s Daniel Cleaver gone and almost forgotten, what Bridget does this time out is become pregnant without being sure who the father-to-be is.
It could be recently divorced conservative barrister Mark Darcy, played again by Colin Firth, from whom Bridget had long since split up when she engaged in a “nostalgic shag”with him, or it could be dashing American matchmaking maven Jack Qwant, played by Patrick Dempsey, whom she met cute only recently and with whom she had a one-night stand.
The fitfully funny, intermittently entertaining screenplay by Dan Mazer, Fielding, and Emma Thompson – the latter also playing a supporting role as Bridget’s brusque obstetrician – is based not on the series’ third book (Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy), but instead on a number of independent columns by Fielding and it manages to stand alone sufficiently for viewers who haven’t seen the earlier installments.
There is more than enough character-based comedy and a few slapstick highlights, but most of the audience-friendly humor earns smiles rather than laughs, especially for fans of the franchise.
This is a comfortably lived-in role for Zellweger, who gives us the likable, self-deprecating protagonist with one foot nearly always planted in her mouth.
And Firth and Dempsey are well cast and sufficiently effective.
Also, if ever there was a way to close up shop by perfectly setting up the launching of the potential next sequel – don’t worry: no spoilers – this film has found it.
So we’ll give birth to 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for the audience-friendly prenatal comedy, Bridget Jones’s Baby, as the franchise takes better-than-baby steps in its efforts to keep up with the Joneses.