Saturday, 24 September 2016

Bridget Jones's Baby (2016) - Movie Review

In 2001, Bridget Jones’s Diary (man, that apostrophe still irks me somewhat; I don’t care about grammatical accuracy, that just looks wrong) served as a major paradigm shift for how rom-coms were realized and set a standard for how they would look for the rest of the 2000’s and even today. With its firmly tongue-in-cheek sense of humour and old-school literary influences, it was the exception to the rule that itself became the rule, bringing a far more irresponsible and mutton-acting-as-lamb recklessness to the status quo. Then the sequel came along and, by sticking to auto-pilot on all counts, was thoroughly annoying and a major let-down. Now we have a long-awaited(?) follow-up to the story that may or may not retcon said sequel The Edge Of Reason out of existence, but as always the Sequel Rules still apply. Rule #6 goes that threequels made 10+ years after the fact have a high probability of being either the best or worst of their respective series (see: Toy Story 3, Terminator 3). So, with all that in mind, how does this go?

The plot: Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger), a spinster and long-running television producer, is in a bit of a bind. After a week of sexual proclivity, she finds herself pregnant… and she isn’t sure who the father is. It could be either billionaire dating mogul Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey) or her old flame Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). As she weighs up the possibilities, up to and including who she tells the news to and how, it seems that her life as a single woman may finally come to an end.

15 years on and it is quite commendable how well the acting has held up since then. Zellweger is still astounding in how well she pulls off a British accent, along with the frequent bouts of reckless abandon her character goes through. Firth still lacks credibility as the boring dark horse of the love triangle, but then again it will never make sense to see him as anything other than suave and charming. He maintains that very literal stiff upper lip and does wonders as the straight man to all the weirdness going on around him. Gemma Jones is as confounding and occasionally heartfelt as she always was, and Jim Broadbent is still the best thing about these films as his grasp on dry humour is second to none.

As for the newcomers, Sarah Solemani is very good as our surrogate best friend, given how the old gang is still around but not nearly as much, and is given some of the funnier lines of the whole film which she doesn’t waste. Emma Thompson as the obstetrician Dr. Rawlings has great delivery of her lines, which makes sense considering she helped write them, and gives a good dose of reality to the proceedings. And then there’s Dempsey, and there’s a reason I saved him for last. The guy is rather old hat when it comes to cheesy rom-coms, and even though his last big screen appearance was with Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (or Deep Wang Hurting, as I’ve taken to calling it), this just goes to show why he needs more gigs as soon as humanly possible. No-one else on set is as game for the shenanigans as he is, creating this apex of wish fulfillment that I can’t even dissect that much because he is so much fun to watch on screen.

So, up to this point, the series has set up a very deliberate and traceable style to its comedy and plot development. Namely, one built around increasingly obvious punchlines and misunderstandings that, before too long, you start to anticipate even with how quickly they can turn up. This ended up being the nail in the coffin of The Edge Of Reason, as that was literally all that the laughs were built on. Comedy is best found with spontaneity; that’s why line-o-rama is still as popular as it is. However, it seems like with age and the years-long gap has come a certain amount of restraint in what it is willing to show on screen. We’ve gone from the screwball antics of the original to the fuckball antics of the sequel (Thai prison? Who the hell thought that was a good idea?) back to screwball. It’s zany and extremely fluffy, but it never reaches the point where it feels like you’re running the risk of being prescribed insulin.

It probably helps that the script has also gone back to letting more than just the whims of fate dictate where the laughs begin, as the character interactions and decisions lead to plenty of good chuckles. As a solo act, Dempsey wins with flying colours between his condensing of several dates into a few minutes and him and Firth at Lamaze class with Bridget. As a team-up, Bridget and Miranda are pitch-perfect with their newsroom shenanigans thriving through just how well they both deliver the beats. Miranda is heaps of fun for how madcap she can be but also more than capable of being straight-faced when she needs to.

With the restoration of the original status quo comes the same approach to the story. We’re still doing the same dance-around with the two love interests, and by this point two previous films have set in stone how this one will end. Swapping out Hugh Grant for Dempsey was a good move for a bit of variety but we’re still working with the same on-again-off-again framework. It has grown a tad tiresome by now, even a decade removed from the prior efforts, and yet it isn’t unbearable in any way. This is due to the fact that with the age-induced restraint apparently came a certain amount of self-reflection, both about the story itself and its place in current history. The quips about the hipster invasion and modern social media are decent enough, and the acknowledgements of how the usual spinsters of today have evolved since the early 2000’s are solid, but where this film really shines is where it deals with Bridget herself. Specifically, more so than anything in the last two films, it isolates how maybe what Bridget is doing and has been doing is extremely stupid of her.

This is where the decision to carry along Mark Darcy’s character all this time begins to crystallise into something useful, as all of her choices concerning him are brought in focus, resulting in a bout of retrospection and introspection that I didn’t even know this usually light and frothy series was capable of. Said revelation is hurt somewhat not only by how her relationship with Darcy was handled in the transition from Edge Of Reason to here, but also the precedent-set path that it goes down during the film on its own terms. It also manages to hurt the potentially-interesting two fathers angle that the love triangle could have gone, but this series has always made its claim with zany, frothy entertainment that is ultimately harmless without being severely dumbed down. Tough questions about paternity may be too much for this film, but for once it doesn’t feel like it’s being done solely because its intended audience is too weak to accept it.

All in all, an admirable step back into formation that, even after all these years, shows why the original was so fun and influential to begin: By continuing its tradition and throwing just enough variety into the mix to make said continuation worth doing. The acting is very good, particularly from a very fun and engaging Patrick Dempsey, the music continues the series’ suit of showing some of the most pitch-perfect music selections and use of any rom-com, the direction allows for ludicrous antics without going too overboard and the writing, while sticking to the formula pretty readily, shows enough growth and maturity to make this sequel’s existence on its own viable. Honestly, I’d mark this up as being just as good, if not better, than the original so if you like that film, definitely check this one out. Hell, if you have any liking for cheesier rom-coms, I’d give this a watch.

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