Review: 'Bridget Jones' births a likable threequel

Brian Truitt

Not only is there an important birth in Bridget Jones’s Baby but the new film also marks a rebirth for Renee Zellweger.

Patrick Dempsey and Renee Zellweger star in 'Bridget Jones's Baby."

The actress proves she’s back in a big way playing the long-suffering British singleton for a third time in the romantic comedy (*** out of four stars; rated R; in theaters Friday). It draws from Helen Fielding’s columns for England’s The Independent newspaper rather than her Bridget novels. And while it unabashedly leans into its chick-flick nature, returning director Sharon Maguire — who helmed 2001’s franchise-starter Bridget Jones’s Diary — manages to craft the strongest and funniest film of the series.

This time around, Bridget’s a little less All By Myself and a touch more Jump Around: She’s lean and mean at an acceptable fighting weight and loving her job as a British news producer. But as she turns 43, she finds herself stuck between mommy pals and 30-something party-hard work friends.

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During a jaunt to a rowdy music festival with her news-anchor bestie (Sarah Solemani), she literally falls into the bed of rich, fun-loving American dating-site mogul Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey). A few days later, Bridget reconnects — in more ways than one — with her old beau, the impossibly stiff lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth).

Some weeks later, she discovers why she’s having trouble fitting into her skinny jeans: Bridget is preggers thanks to a box of expired condoms. Because of the timing, it could be either Jack or Mark's baby.

The character is up to her usual shenanigans — not telling the whole truth about her pregnancy to family members (and the two possible dads trying to out-macho each other) — and yet Bridget feels fully fleshed out for the first time in Baby.

Bridget (Renee Zellweger) reconnects with old beau Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) in 'Bridget Jones's Baby.'

She’s considered a “geriatric” mother by her hilariously deadpan OB/GYN (a sensational Emma Thompson). Still, Bridget proves capable of taking on motherhood while figuring out her romantic situation, not to mention dealing with the hipsters at her job trying to replace good journalism with cats that look like Hitler. It’s a well-done workplace conflict that adds modern relevance to the frothy rom-com atmosphere.

Bridget Jones’s Baby can’t escape its inherent tropes: Girl-power vibes are abundant though not overpowering, and the soundtrack is filled with feel-good pop (fans of Ed Sheeran will enjoy his entertaining cameo). What differentiates it, however, from Sex and the City or most anything you’d see on Bravo is how it ignores snark in favor of a goofy, infectious sweetness.

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Dempsey brings a healthy amount of charm to his debonair American, and Firth showcases his wealth of talent as the endlessly repressed Darcy. (Hugh Grant sits this one out, but his Daniel Cleaver is still felt in a couple of scenes.) As much as the guys pull their weight, this is really Zellweger’s show, and she owns every bit of it.

She hasn’t been seen much the past few years — her last major role was 2009’s New in Town and it’s been more than a decade since the disappointing Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. This third film lets Zellweger exhibit her charming effervescence (with a newfound maturity) and prove she's still a bankable star.

In other words, Baby, she’s still got it.