‘Bridget Jones’s Baby’
Sharon Maguire
Stars: Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

It isn’t Elvis’ ’68 “comeback special”; in fact, it’s barely a movie. But the third of the “Bridget Jones” films serves a similar purpose: It reminds us of the powers (or, in this case, just the affable charms) of a cultural icon who’s fallen on hard times. When last we saw Renee Zellweger’s guru of self-doubt, things got pretty bleak. It was 2004’s textbook sorry sequel “The Edge of Reason,” which squashed all the original’s good will and charm in an over-produced avalanche of melodrama, a bizarre stretch in a Thai prison (with dancing!) and about 100 on-the-nose song cues. (When our hero loses Colin Firth’s deceptively disinterested Mark Darcy, why not “I’m Not in Love”?)

It’s a good sign that the new “Bridget Jones’s Baby” “only” has three of those. Even more encouragingly, it has a perfectly reasonable reason to exist. Twelve years have elapsed since the last “Bridget,” and now this self-professed “spinster” — who, 15 years ago, assumed she’d die alone, “half-eaten by wolves” — has hit middle-age. It’s one thing for her to be single in her 30s. It’s the 40s that are really rough on the unmarried and unloved, whom society treats as damaged goods, particularly if they’re women. Throw in the untold sexist “think pieces” over Zellweger’s changed looks — plus six years of her being a standard ignored 40-something in Hollywood — and you have a movie whose very existence is an act of righteous defiance.

What you get is a frivolous, fitfully amusing time-waster with a dodgy middle stretch — but also a reminder that Zellweger’s Bridget is, you know, funny. Many of the big things that happen to her aren’t funny: the clumsy falls into mud, the farcical misunderstandings, two separate bits where she incorrigibly causes havoc on the hard news TV show (called “Hard News”) she now produces. And the plot isn’t much better. Once again, Bridget has to choose between two men, one of whom is once again Mark Darcy, who conveniently split with her in the intervening decade. The other is an endearingly peppy dating site inventor, Jack, endearingly played by Patrick Dempsey.

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As it happens Bridget bagged them both in the span of a few days — a development the movie, refreshingly, doesn’t portray as evil. The shags were so close she’s not even sure which is the culprit, and won’t know till after the birth. One of them will also, of course, become not only the father but her husband, because being single in a fizzy rom-com is bad but being a single mom is even worse. It’s not great that the film doesn’t think to consider a third choice, particularly in an era in which the notion of not getting married or even dating is being increasingly de-weirded. It’s not even great for the story. We’re left to twiddle our thumbs, awaiting the result of an arbitrary (and possibly anticlimactic?) battle of #TeamMark vs. #TeamGuyFromMeatballs3.

Unlike in “The Edge of Reason,” the story’s never deal-breakingly awful. It’s just a dumb rom-com, although there is a while where it seems worse than that. In the early stages of her pregnancy, Bridget ropes along Mark and Jack to help, telling each they’re the father but not telling them about the other’s existence. It goes on long enough to seem cruel, not cute and Classic Bridget. Not even Zellweger can sell it.

But she can sell most anything. She’s funniest not when pratfalling or screwing up, but when she’s doing next to nothing — when she’s just being Bridget. She’s as comfortably uncomfortable as ever; if anything she’s even more game to make Bridget winningly unkempt. Zellweger makes her look more awkward, makes even more unflattering scrunchy faces, is even more uneasy when rattling off verbal diarrhea as others rudely refuse to interrupt her. As it turns out, a fourth entry isn’t a grim prospect — although maybe it’d be best to go “Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight” on her, checking in when things are interesting enough.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge