There are lazy sequels, and then there are lazy
sequels. Bridget Jones's Baby
is a dictionary-definition version of the latter. It is the latecoming third offering in the series which began reasonably auspiciously in 2001 with the success of Bridget Jones's Diary
, and continued three years later, with Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
. As such, it had no particularly great expectations to live up to, given that its immediate predecessor was already pretty bad—and the franchise's progenitor, itself, is likewise not any gold-plated kind of good
. Simple mediocrity, then, would have put it completely on par. BJB
doesn't meet even that
minimal standard; it is handily the very worst of the lot. Now, those first two films burned through a whole laundry list of sins—the sins of being instantly forgettable, of being terrifically pandering, of not being especially funny, of calling Renee Zellwegger fat every ten minutes, and (above all) of condescending totally to their target audience with a heroine who is, at best, only vaguely likeable, and, at worst, a mildly annoying nonentity, yet is still somehow the romantic focus of two loosely-drawn dream boys.
But those first two Bridget Jones pictures redeem their sins a little bit, because the farcical, almost magical-realist tone they each whip up manages to serve as a pleasant backdrop to an ongoing romantic triangle that, whether or not it's more than marginally credible, and whether or not it's particularly heartfelt, does
still manage to be kind of actually enjoyable
. They did this through the expedient of giving its two wish-fulfillment figures to Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, who performed their one-note roles with capable aplomb. Grant played up everything scummy about his tantalizing bad boy; Firth, meanwhile, was busy being the Firthiest version of himself he could be—which is more-or-less to say, he looks absolutely miserable that he even chose acting as a career in the first place. But since this is exactly why we like
Colin Firth, you can't say you never
had any fun with him here.
Obviously, it would be unfair to say Renee Zellwegger herself had nothing to do with the films' (apparently) tremendous appeal. And I would be the last person to say it. To the extent that Diary
(and its derivative and racist follow-up) ever wind up featuring a worthy protagonist, it's almost entirely due to her efforts at forging a human being out of the shards of ignorance and ill-judgment that constitute the simulacrum of singlehood called "Bridget Jones," so that what we actually saw was a woman whose major tragic flaw was that nobody had ever bothered teaching her the story of the Scorpion and the Frog. And this went an awful long way to covering up the films' problems, explaining why she kept getting angry at her two lovers for, essentially, being the vacant romantic comedy archetypes they were. (And, of course, it also helped explain why she kept stinging Mark Darcy right in his
fucking neck—two films running!—when they were already
halfway across the river.) The point is that Daniel and Darcy were very well-opposed forces, and this lent their films a certain watchability. Well, in Bridget Jones's Baby
, the notion
of Daniel shows up—while Hugh Grant emphatically does not—only so the screenwriters can savagely execute his character offscreen.
But, because this is a Bridget Jones movie, and because reinventing the wheel at this point would be way too much work, he inevitably does have a replacement
. And this man is categorically
unacceptable, on pretty much every level possible, except that "he is an attractive age-appropriate partner for Bridget"; but maybe that's just as well, too, since the premise
is even more unacceptable still, for once BJB
gets going (it takes something like fifty minutes) every last thing in this film comes to turn entirely upon a question of paternity that, with our science, ought to be answered within a couple of weeks.
It is not answered, however, because Bridget is squeamish and refuses an amniocentesis. (And she really shouldn't
be squeamish about it, because not only is Bridget herself getting old, both of her prospective sperm donors are a lot closer to their
graves than they are the maternity ward, too. Incidentally, the only person to escape BJB
with honor is Emma Thompson, as Bridget's OBGYN.) But, of course, "responsibility" and "consequences" and "agency" have never been tremendously big issues in the Jones universe. And never less so than now, when the script commits fully to its conceit of not one but two possible fathers, neither one of whom so much as raises an eyebrow, let alone a voice, over the fact that Bridget is willfully refusing to disclose which one of them is the guy who knocked her up. And so the pandering has reached, in this third installment, the level of crazed pornography.
The worst of it is, it's the sort of thing that could be effortlessly
handwaved away—Bridget tries! there's complications! and now
afraid—and the writers would have actually made the melodrama tighter for their effort. But effort is the last
thing anyone was putting into this. Even Firth is just on Firth Autopilot—which is still kind
of funny, but it's not that
funny. Especially not when BJB
's sense of humor can be summed up by its trailer-ready "setpiece," a lamaze class with two men, wherein Dempsey's watery billionaire and Firth's stolid super-lawyer are (gasp!) mistaken for a gay couple—and this is supposed
to be amusing, for despite all the wear-and-tear you can see on the actors, it's pretty clearly going to be 2001 forever
in Bridget Jones's boozy bourgeois rendition of the hellhole called London.
But, you know, at least this
gag has the decency to have a punchline, even when that punchline is not really anything more profound than Firth in a reaction shot, easing us back into laughing at some unpalatably stale homosexual panic, with a look that's (cunningly enough) a lot more weary
than it is actually anxious. Unfortunately, most of BJB
's efforts at comedy only get to the set-up, before they stop.
So, behold: there are vile hipsters running Bridget's tabloid media show now, and, boy, do they
have some stupid facial hair! (That's the joke.) Thrill, as Bridget goes into labor and must hitch a ride with a pizza delivery truck, which is itself delayed by a feminist protest, and isn't that
some value of ironic! (That's the joke.) And laugh, I guess, when BJB
goes completely out of its way to set up a potentially delightful farce, wherein our heroine must doublespeak to both her men at once—and to a perfect stranger, too!—in order to keep the uncertain paterntity of her baby a secret, but then, presumably because good farce turns out to be hard to write, just has her vomit out the truth, about thirty seconds after she's told the brown guy to buzz off, because, sadly, he won't be needed for this bit. (And, yes. That
is the joke.)
Finally, then, just die a little bit inside, as the screenplay tries quite desperately to convince you that the billionaire's utter lack of personality and charisma—these are replaced by his invention of a dating website and a so-called "love algorithm"—is supposed to have the mildest thematic value. (Should I have mentioned that the billionaire's name was "Jack Qwant"? Why, do you
think that's funny?)
Well, in case these examples don't make it entirely clear, this whole movie is obnoxiously tilted toward some of the flimsiest and most hypocritical generational warfare you'll have the chance to see this whole damn year. (Not enough examples? How about "Bridget gets fired by her hipster bosses, which is bad, somehow, even though she was fired for being demonstrably unethical and bad at her job"—and, obviously, this seemingly-important plot element
has virtually no plot ramifications
.) Now, it is never once as labia-out offensive
as Edge of Reason
's third act detour into a Thai prison—mostly because almost no movie is, up to and including The Temple of Doom
—but it is
one whole hell of a lot more consistently grating, in its general disdain for Millennials as well as the year it's supposedly set in. I half-expect the editor's working title for this film was Bridget Jones's Snide Insert Shots of Trendy Beards
. This fucking movie voted for Brexit.
But, of course, this is
the same movie that can't so much as bother alluding
to how the ending of Edge of Reason
came undone in the first place. So you just can't claim anything like real
surprise when it doesn't wind up putting any of its boundlessly-lacking energy toward being actually humorous or insightful, rather than just being generally blithe and intermittently playful, kind of like a cat that has cancer.
In fact, when the offscreen death of Daniel Cleaver is also the funniest joke BJB
ever manages to make land, that should probably serve as some kind of warning in its own right. Indeed, it ought to have served as a warning to the filmmakers themselves: because if you can't even get Hugh Grant
to sign up to your lousy movie in 2016, then why in God's name are you bothering making it at all