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“BRIDGET JONES’ BABY” SURPRISINGLY DELIVERS

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“Bridget Jones’ Baby” is among the many movies to randomly pop out amid the sequel-obsessed film industry that’s ravaging cinemas these days. Its prerequisite, “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” came out way back in 2004. Despite not following author Helen Fielding’s third book, “Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy,” the film unexpectedly can thrive without a novel counterpart, with Renee Zellweger and Colin Firth returning as romance-hopeful Bridget Jones and her longtime lover, Mark Darcy respectively.

The film’s opening mirrors the first film’s where Jones sits on her couch, sad and alone, with the aptly-titled classic “All By Myself” blasting inside her cozy London apartment- a melancholic reminder of the explosion of great rom-coms in the 1990s and early 2000s. A lot has  happened since the last film: Jones breaking up with Darcy once more, Darcy marrying another woman, Jones’ close friends are now, or about to become, parents, and Jones clearly becoming more confident and able in helping to broadcast news.

The absence of former book publisher and Jones’ ex, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), was immediately established as he apparently perished in a crash off-screen and his funeral is attended by an unusually large, yet hilarious number of young women, clear evidence that his womanizing ways never stopped till the day he died. After Jones and her friend guiltily chuckle about how Cleaver ironically “crashed into a bush,” viewers are left to initially wonder why Jones and Darcy broke up as the two briefly and uncomfortably conversed after his funeral.

Bridget Jones’ personality never quite left, as she is still clumsy, awkward, constantly wondering if she and Mark could have another go, struggling to impress at her broadcasting job and egregious at making speeches. The concept of time is unmistakable as the advent of social media and smartphones directly impacted Jones’ personal private lives: her famous red diary is now a red-cased iPad wherein she makes colorful use of the Notes app. Jones also has difficulty finding time to hang out with her once-adventurous and comically loudmouthed circle of friends.

Jones begins worrying about becoming a spinster, so in an effort to hark back to her young glory days, she goes to the Glastonbury Festival (a British equivalent of Coachella) with a friend, accidentally encounters real-life musician Ed Sheeran, and ends up meeting and sleeping with algorithmic-dating mogul Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey). The next day, she is forced to reunite with Darcy for a close friend’s baptism and they, unable to resist their concealed passion, spend the night together. Much later, Jones, having run away from both men, discovers she’s pregnant and thus begins the hysterical race to find the identity of the baby’s father.

It is very touching to see Jones, Darcy and the other much-appreciated supporting characters return for this film. It is a welcome divergence from the standard Hollywood rom-com in which very young lovers meet, fall for each other, face obstacles, get back together and live happily ever after. This film, despite the passage of time, naturally accentuates how Jones and Darcy still have strong feelings for each other and the nature of their breakup between the two films feels authentic.

While the Jones-Darcy-Qwant love triangle story feels like a stereotypical plotline, the subtle rivalry and contrasting personalities of Darcy and Qwant yields laughter and drama. Darcy, a mostly uptight and topcoat-dressed gentlemanly barrister versus Qwant, a more youthful, spontaneous and motorcycle-enthusiast American. Another highlight is the British humor Emma Thompson impressively exudes as a passive-aggressive godmother-like obstetrician who routinely checks up on Jones’ pregnancy and drops comments about Jones’ two men.

The film manages to stand out from other recent rom-coms as Jones is not portrayed as a one-dimensional hopeless romantic who falls for the hunky, Abercrombie & Fitch model-like mal. Instead her personal and professional struggles feel genuine. Although Darcy isn’t the main character, he’s actually a flawed individual too as he had two failed marriages, has difficulty expressing his feelings and seems like a workaholic.

The film also succeeds with three actors playing middle-aged leads, which brings about a sense of nostalgia as viewers watch a montage of Jones and Darcy’s franchise-spanning romance in one scene, representing Darcy having an epiphany about his love for Jones after he accidentally comes across his infamous ugly Christmas sweater in his drawer. This tragic Christmas sweater also represents how their relationship didn’t always run smoothly, yet like their ages, it blooms much later into a very endearing romance that withstood the course of time.

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