Towards the end of the 20th century, the romantic comedy attempted to evolve afresh. In so doing it helped to generate a fictitious matriarchy. Boys now primped and did push-ups, uncorking their feminine side, in the movies at any rate. Aloof girls made (among themselves) blistering judgments and comparisons. The world changed, and two things helped it do so – TV’s Sex and the City and, on the big screen, Bridget Jones’s Diary and even its soggy sequel.
Various embodiments of feminism-as-style appeared to have won — though Hollywood’s take on the movement was to render it as a pastiche of the obvious and the comic.
That a third Bridget Jones film should suddenly slide into the top movie rankings — and with Zellweger reappearing after a six-year hiatus from the screen — raised fears that the muddled, overweight and lovelorn lass would have grown increasingly cynical and self-loathing, straining to fit into the outré clothing of younger Millennial sisters.
By now men grasp that women, too, are insecure and needed. (Ignore the headlines: this is cinematic fantasy.) Bridget is now older (43), unhitched, and still beset by the illusion that "the one" waits out there in the testosterone jungle.
While sleeker and smarter, Bridget has little to show from her erotic past but some relics of eco-friendly condoms long past their sell-by date: like (perhaps) her. She also talks dirty, in key with the new generation. She stays endearing.
However — a big stride for her — she has achieved power in a TV breakfast show, and still has friends who urge her to accept that sexual desire is ultra-normal, even if hers needs a little help. Thus, plastered, she follows orders and is encouraged by her zany co-worker (Solemani) who drags her to a music festival (one with geological-fault-rending bass, mud, and a vicissitude of male and female screeches). She ends up in bed with a rugged bloke, Jack (Dempsey). Then almost immediately she is back in bed with her ancient flame, Mark (Firth), resurrected for the film by the writer Helen Fielding. (Hugh Grant has disappeared, as he once promised to do, from these films.)
Hence her pregnancy; but who is the father? The plot seeks to untangle this, though Jack is nicer and kinder and vastly richer than Mark. An ensemble cast recalls earlier films and adds small, Brit-fun skits around the innate absurdity of breakfast TV and the clumsiness of actually getting around in front of a camera. There is real wit. Broadbent (everybody’s ideal sympathetic Daddy) and Gemma Jones (an edgy Mommy, since she is running for office on a "family values" ticket) work wonderfully together.
Especially delightful is Thompson, as a doctor who refers to Bridget’s delicate condition as "geriatric pregnancy". (Thompson helped Fielding with the script.)
Last week’s release of Sully, and now Bridget Jones’s Baby, indicates that moderate-budget adventure and comedy for adults do more than fill in a bleak period for Hollywood before the real Oscar contenders arrive. The scattering of Oscar-winners here (Zellweger, for her role in Cold Mountain, Thompson and Firth) may just suggest that the male orientation of women in romcom is wobbling slightly but has not been overcome, if it ever will. The formula is too luscious to scrap. Bridget wants a man.
The imminent release of the multigendered and diverse The Magnificent Seven might do more to persuade us that this current is changing course. Meanwhile, animation must now not just be considered a genre, but one whose potential remains unexplored. And all these movies live only on the big screen.
Bridget Jones’s Baby
Directed by Sharon Maguire; screen writers include Helen Fielding & Emma Thompson
Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey, Jim Broadbent, Gemma Jones, Emma Thompson, Sarah Solemani