Yesterday, two Flavorwire editors saw the third installment in the Bridget Jones series, Bridget Jones’s Baby. Since both of them have pasts steeped in Jones fandom, reviewing the film from anything near an objective or even appropriately subjective standpoint could have proven difficult. And so, they decided that perhaps, if they joined forces in discussion, they’d be able to reach more nuanced conclusions — or just dish. Yep, this is really just a transparent excuse for them to simply talk way too much about Bridget Jones. So pour yourself a bowl of blue soup, hoist up your enormous panties, and join us as we reunite with our favorite verbally incontinent spinster.
Sarah: Well, I’m not going to lie, with the exception of all parts of the film that involved Ed Sheeran (yes, Ed Sheeran shows up) and a few too many jokes about Bridget being so daft she can’t pronounce foreign names or distinguish foreign individuals, I was 100% on board with Bridget Jones’ Baby. In case you haven’t seen the trailer, this is a caper that finds our 43 year old career-gal heroine (Renée Zellwegger) knocked up and unsure whether the baby’s daddy is old flame Mark Darcy (ever-charming Colin Firth) or new one-night-stand Jack Quant (also charming Patrick Dempsey). Honestly, it’s the first rom-com I’ve wholeheartedly relished in recent memory. That’s not just a figure of speech: I honestly cannot remember another one.
So why did this sequel work when The Edge of Reason was so plodding and dismal? My answer in two words: Emma. Thompson. She co-wrote the brisk script with Helen Fielding and Dan Mazer, which explains why the two hours (two hours!) of a pregnant Bridget Jones huffing around London kind of flew by. And furthermore, the Divine Emma’s deadpan turn as Bridget’s harried obstetrician provided some of the film’s best comic moments, as she helped our heroine navigate pregnancy without a clear confirmation of the father’s identity. The women in our screening were howling every time the ultrasound gel was applied. Even the childbirth scenes, which were marginally more realistic than your typical onscreen birth (Bridge actually gets on her hands and knees rather than being on her back the whole time, and she punches and bites her love interests because she’s in so much pain!) pleased me as a new mom, or mum as they say across the pond.
I know you also had fun watching Bridget Jones’ Baby because you were next to me at the screening, sharing my gummy bears, multigrain corn chips and chuckles. To what factors do you attribute your enjoyment?
Moze: I wish I disagreed with you more because this would be more interesting. But alas, I find something so comforting about Zellweger’s Bridget that I really wish she had her own TV series. Also, who am I to disagree with a provider of corn chips?
Even when Bridget is lonely and feeling her most “old spinster”-y — a concern that’s been on her mind now for the last 15 years — her performance still overflows with warmth. I remember — as a lonely weird gay kid who sacrificed a social life to wear pleather — re-watching the first movie over and over, because she just sounded like the quintessential embodiment of “friend,” albeit a friend stuck on repeat. So even the objectively very bad second installment still felt like, “Oh, finally, my redundant imaginary friend has a few new sayings!” For me, that memory of what these movies meant was still entrenched, and there was just no way that I wasn’t going to enjoy this movie, even if I didn’t think it was good. And ultimately, I both thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was totally decent! Not great, not memorable, but warm, funny, watchable, and far less groan-worthy than its genre peers. (Of which there are very few, as by and large the cinematic rom-com is of course quite dead.)
I also want Emma Thompson, whose character is a played like a bored God — all-knowing and completely sick of it — to give me an ultrasound. This was not a thought I ever thought I’d think, but hey.
And I totally agree that the jokes about foreign names were unnecessary — especially given that people of color/foreigners only made their way into the movie in order for central characters to either laud themselves for pronouncing their names really well or feel embarrassed about mispronouncing their names.
There are a few other points in which I diverge re: your overall onboard-ness. When I consider it from a less attached standpoint, I thought the structure of the movie and its romance plot were very strange and both top-and-bottom heavy. There was a ton of set-up (two one night stands! one pregnancy!), a ton of climax and falling action, but very little in the body suggesting what Bridget’s actual relationship to Patrick Dempsey’s maybe-baby-daddy character was. The fact that I walked away from a rom-com not really being able to say whether her relationship to him in the middle of the film was actually sexual and/or even that romantic I find very odd, and I wish that’d been better defined. Furthermore, the movie turns his character — who’s an online dating guru but is initially actually quite sweet — into a lifestyle joke a bit too quickly.
Similarly, I love the film’s positing of Bridget as someone who stands up for journalistic integrity — as I love Bridget, and I fear new media encroachments on journalism’s ability to truly inform. But at the same time, I thought the film tried to have it both ways: embracing (dated or, as you mentioned with Sheeran, lame) contemporary references and a modern sensibility that felt pandering while also, via its script, denouncing those who pander to lowest common denominator contemporary consumers. What say you?
Sarah: You’re right. The movie tried to have all things all ways; hating the Youth of Today and grudgingly admiring them. Setting up an unorthodox family trio, Mamma Mia! Style, while making us wonder who the real father is. Positing Bridget as a strong single woman who can raise a kid on her own while adding that whiff of storybook romance and male rescue. The script didn’t really want to choose or dig into the real conflict that it brought up, because it would rather show Bridget in all kind of hilarious scrapes at work and in her love life. But so be it; these mistakes felt like a too-long, too-mushy hug.
Incidentally, I read and loved the third Bridget Jones novel which (spoiler!) kills off Mark Darcy and spends its time showing Bridget as a widowed mom trying to assuage her loneliness through Twitter and dating a younger man. The novel’s Twitter sequences were laugh-out-loud funny, even if some of its references (thongs!) felt totally dated, too.
Leaving aside underwear choices, a perennial motif in the world of Jonesy, let’s go back to the problematic stuff for a moment. One of the reasons the foreign name-itis is a lame gag besides being, um, racist is that it’s a prime example of “sequelitis.” Back in the early millennium,we all quoted Bridget at a cocktail party pretending to care about Chech-nya. This film takes that tiny, well-delivered joke (at Bridget’s expense) stands at its deathbed, and repeatedly asphyxiates it.
Fortunately, that’s a misstep the film avoids in other situations. It gives Bridget some dignity with age — instead of showing up in a playboy outfit at a garden party, she arrives in heels and a white pantsuit to muddy Glastonbury. A subtler touch had Patrick Dempsey jumping into the pool during a prenatal water exercise class that was a clear throwback to Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy jumping into that lake (a favorite topic of Bridget’s) without being too on-the-nose. While other bedroom romps in the series have been played for laughs, the one sex scene between Firth and Zellweger packed the most heat I’ve seen in a long time between 40-something actors and characters (making Nancy Meyer’s geriatric romances look like, erm, child’s play). And the final sequence featuring the two suitors trying to carry a pregnant woman to the hospital, on foot, as a women’s rights protest blocked traffic actually felt like a fresh and funny commentary on ideas about chivalry, pregnancy, and feminism.
Enough serious analysis. In our post-Girls world, the idea of treating female awkwardness, uncouthness and clumsiness as something ultimately joyful and lovable felt so weirdly refreshing and nostalgic I didn’t know what to do with myself. In some ways Bridget Jones shares a DNA with Broad City, but it’s gentler and more British. I can only conclude my part of the review by quoting two headlines I read in the European press this morning: “Why there’s no place for Bridget Jones in modern society” and “Bridget Jones is a glorious emissary from a better age.” I kind of agree with both of them. I plan to see this movie again.
Moze: Yes! One of the worst aspects of sequelitus is its condescension: of course it’s enough to simply have these characters back, and audiences can figure out that they’re the same characters in the same world as before (well, everyone except Owen Glieberman, apparently). By repeatedly recalling old jokes, sequel films self-destruct because they underscore the reason they don’t need to exist. What’s odd here is that, as you mentioned, sometimes these nostalgic jokes are tired and sometimes they truly do shed new light on the earlier joke: for instance, a scene where Bridget Jones gets up to give a lecture bears the ominous foreshadowing of another memorably terrible speech from her past. Here, however, the joke is applied to Jones’ adversarial relationship to technology; the lecture links to her personal information and publicly uncovers a series of incriminating tidbits. It isn’t at all of a stretch for the movie to translate Bridget’s earlier physical clumsiness to the digital world — not because she’s an inept person (she’s not), but rather because she’s got a personality that cannot be contained either within a body, a set of gender roles, or within a smartphone. It works because despite her verbal self-deprecation, she embraces that fact. Again, just another reason why the movie’s simultaneous indulgence of facile contemporaneity rang false — because Zellweger’s Bridget herself feels so true.
The film features a few flashbacks to the first movie, and I was struck in these moments by how un-flashy that movie was — sort of similar to the disparity between Sex and the City the series and Sex and the City the film — and how much it trusted the chemistry between its leads and its clever script to do the work for it. Luckily, Zellweger still brings the same clumsy zest to the part, but now she also has to fight the flourishes. It’s also a shame that this film perpetuates the trend of Hollywood comedies having dick-measuring contests via the immensity of the stars who cameo — yet another aspect where a patchwork of capitalist moviemaking requirements impinges on the idea of simply letting us watch characters live. This is why second and third seasons of TV can work so much better than film sequels. Depicting lives as continual, amorphous and fluid, rather than the sequel formula wherein lives have evolved but repeat the same formulas and jokes as before, has proven to be far more engrossing and realistic.
This would be where my sentimental side and my critical side want to diverge totally — if it weren’t for the fact that, as you mentioned, the movie also has its moments of smart, raucous humor that is fresh, and doesn’t ultimately reek of the same moribundity of the likes of Zoolander 2, Ghostbusters, and pretty much everything else that was released this summer. This movie was for me an old formula whose positives (every time Emma Thompson is onscreen; Bridget’s indecisions while she’s in labor; Bridget’s method of not-so-clandestinely using an on-air interview to screen a potential father to her child) ultimately outdid its negatives.