Tuesday 28 February 2017

Film review: Our dear friend Bridget makes a triumphant return

Renée Zellweger steals the show in this surprisingly enjoyable sequel

Paul Whitington

Back with a bang: Patrick Dempsey is the new guy in Bridget's (Renée Zellweger) life in 'Bridget Jones's Baby'
Back with a bang: Patrick Dempsey is the new guy in Bridget's (Renée Zellweger) life in 'Bridget Jones's Baby'

Earlier this summer, Variety's film critic Owen Gleiberman wrote a rather mischievous piece about Renée Zellweger's face. He was looking forward to Bridget Jones's Baby, but worried aloud that the sequel would be diminished by its star's changed appearance. There has been much speculation over the last two years about whether or not Ms Zellweger has undergone cosmetic surgery, and while watching a trailer for the film, Mr Gleiberman said that "I didn't stare at the actress and think, she doesn't look like Renée Zellweger. I thought, she doesn't look like Bridget Jones."

Of course neither Mr Gleiberman nor anyone else can say for certain that Renée Zellweger has had 'work' done, but if she did a possible motive isn't too hard to find. From the mid-90s to 2010, Ms Zellweger was one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood, but was dropped like a stone once she hit 40, and hasn't appeared in a film for six years.

Which is a pity, because on her day she's a superb comic actress, and the character of Bridget Jones remains her masterpiece. The Texas actress gained 20 pounds and mastered the intricacies of the greater London accent to play the disaster-prone career girl in 'Bridget Jones's Diary', the 2001 hit based on the novels of Helen Fielding. She managed to make Bridget seem compellingly real, and her performance in 'Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason' was about the only thing that made that ill-advised sequel watchable.

But that film departed the multiplexes muttering apologies way back in 2004, Ms Zellweger hasn't appeared in a hit film in a decade, and no one writes diaries any more, do they? Bridget Jones's Baby sounds like a cast-iron disaster, a sequel made way too late, and yet oddly enough, it isn't.

It's a lot better than the second film, almost as likeable as the first, and features an ensemble cast of excellent comic actors who are led from the front by Renée Zellweger with her usual bravery and aplomb.

Bridget, still single and lonely, has just turned 43, and is bitterly reflecting on life's lost opportunities when Miranda (Sarah Solemani), a TV station work colleague, persuades her to attend a rock festival. There, in a tent-strewn, muddy field, she meets and sleeps with Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey), a charming dating website multimillionaire.

A week later, Bridget is at a christening when she runs into her old flame Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), who's as handsome - and taciturn - as ever. They get drunk, and get it on, and six weeks later Bridget finds out she's pregnant. That packet of stale vegan condoms that have been languishing at the bottom of her handbag for over a decade may be to blame, but meanwhile she must decide what to do about the baby, whose father could be either man.

A major hurdle this sequel faced was the absence of Hugh Grant, who was so brilliant as the caddish publisher Daniel Cleaver in the earlier films, and the perfect foil for the prudish and fussy Darcy. He didn't like the script apparently, though that may have been before Emma Thompson was hired to rewrite it, and the film cleverly tackles his absence head on by having Bridget attend his funeral, where he's grieved by hundreds of beautiful women.

Into his place steps Patrick Dempsey, whose character may not be as splendidly reprehensible as Cleaver, but is annoyingly new age enough to make his rivalry with Darcy interesting.

Colin Firth reprises that role skilfully, and has been around long enough to realise that sometimes just standing there looking as though he's eaten a bad clam will get him the biggest laugh. Sarah Solemani is excellent as Bridget's partner in crime Miranda, while Emma Thompson almost steals the show as her witheringly sarcastic doctor.

But this is Zellweger's film, and whatever scientific enhancements she's made to her person have not affected her comic timing, or touch.

She's the heart and soul of this thoroughly winning romcom, which culminates in a slapstick rush to the hospital that's worthy of the Marx brothers.

Bridget Jones's Baby

(15A, 123mins)

3 Stars

Films coming soon...

The Magnificent Seven (Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Peter Sarsgaard); The Girl with all the Gifts (Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine); Little Men (Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Alfred Molina); The Clan (Guillermo Francella).

 

Irish Independent

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