Director: Sharon Maguire (2016) BBFC cert: 15
Fans of the UK’s favourite singleton will cheer at this amiably entertaining and almost touching third entry in the romcom franchise.
Renee Zellweger returns as an older, wiser and sadder but still loveable Bridget. The Texan’s talent and charm give the uneven and scattershot script a depth it doesn’t deserve. Her assured underplaying is especially welcome in a restaurant scene of excruciating embarrassment.
Helen Fielding based her original Bridget Jones Diary newspaper column on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (pub. 1813). Books and films followed with great commercial success.
Having Fielding, Dan Mazar and Emma Thompson contributing conflicting styles of humour to the script causes unresolved tensions between scenes. Plus there is again a grating change of politics between those found in the source material and some of the broader gags.
It’s not one should expect Austen levels of wit from this generally light-hearted romp, but there is a huge departure from the author’s social concerns in order to land a few punchlines. Austen was highly critical of a society where the second class status of women made them financially reliant on men and forced them to seek a ‘good’ marriage. In Bridget’s world finding a rich man is one what does for sport, not necessity.
Fielding astutely includes her comic standbys of a Bridget film. There is a breathy voice over, an obsession with sex and alcohol, a grand resignation, swearing kids and eccentric OAPs. The famous diary has been replaced by a laptop. It’s all as cosy as one of Bridget’s famous Christmas jumpers, which also make an appearance.
Thompson won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for her adaption of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1995. Novel pub. 1811). Presumably she wrote her scene stealing role as Bridget’s maternity doctor, the only consistently Austen-like female character on show.
The brief moment when the tone threatens to take a dark almost Dickensian turn also suggests Thompson’s fingers in charge of the keyboard. This plays far better than Fielding’s indulgent, ill conceived and seemingly Richard Curtis inspired cameos, Italian stereotypes and pratfalls. Having said that, Thompson isn’t afraid to lift a joke popstar Robbie Williams used on Graham Norton’s chat show, during an edition on which she also appeared.
Thompson’s deftly drawn and waspish character is hugely at odds with the presumably Mazar scripted sequence featuring a distressed and suddenly helpless Bridget. Our heroine relies for rescue on a pair of men for transport, only to find their way blocked by a parade of breast baring radical feminists.
At this point all pretence of Bridget as a modern, independent woman is abandoned for cheap gags and a Cinderella subtext. This moment also sees the flowering of another subtext as Bridget’s vagina is reduced to a conduit for a closeted bromance.
In the film’s defence there is a strong if ham-fisted appeal for inclusivity. There is also a decent Margaret Thatcher joke, though not at the Iron Lady’s expense.
Having been nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for co-writing Baron Cohen’s Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006), it’s easy to speculate which elements Mazar contributed. More recently he wrote the Zac Efron/Robert DeNiro gross out comedy Dirty Grandpa (2016).
The film opens in a reassuringly familiar fashion and will immediately win old fans over. Although now a successful if accident prone TV news producer, Bridget celebrates her 43rd birthday alone, drinking chardonnay and listening to her signature tune ‘All By Myself’, by Eric Carmen.
After a couple of one night stands, the occasional wanton sex goddess finds herself pregnant and unsure whom the father is. One possible parent is Jack Qwant, a billionaire mathematician and internet dating guru at a music festival. American TV star Patrick Dempsey is vanilla at best.
The other is her former lover, the now married but still uptight human rights lawyer, Mark Darcy. Bridget and he bump into each other at a memorial service for his erstwhile and wonderfully louche love rival, Daniel Cleaver.
The absence of Hugh Grant’s Cleaver is keenly felt. Colin Firth’s grumpy and lacklustre performance as Darcy suggests he is pining for Grant’s light comic touch to rub up against.
Jim Broadbent and Gemma Jones offer game support as Bridget’s parents alongside franchise favourites Celia Imrie, Shirley Henderson, James Callis and Sally Phillips.
It all ends in champagne as our heroine becomes the sort of person she once purported to despise. A late and predictable plot twist suggests a fourth film is not out of the question.