Bridget Jones's Baby is a romantic comedy that's truly both. There's no filler in its 122 minutes, which allows the characters enough breathing room to consider their choices. At its start, our intrepid heroine (Renée Zellweger) seems back at square one: alone on an important night, consoling herself by drinking wine and singing along to "All by Myself." (Could those be the same pajama bottoms she wore in Bridget Jones's Diary?) Zellweger's voiceover strikes the familiar self-excoriating tone as Bridget reassures herself that there's always a gap between aspirations and outcome. But as much as this latest installment draws on affection for the snappy first film, which blended Absolutely Fabulous with Pride and Prejudice (sans zombies), it's the differences that make Bridget Jones's Baby the warmest and most satisfying of the series.
The twist? Bridget is facing an unexpected pregnancy and doesn't know whether the father is Jack Qwant or Mark Darcy, her naughty and nice exes, portrayed by Patrick Dempsey and Colin Firth. The screenplay by Fielding, Dan Mazer (I Give It a Year), and Emma Thompson allows Bridget to evolve without losing her reckless optimism. Instead of wallowing in the self-pity that opening scene suggests, she seizes the moment: No more tragic spinster, Bridget's now a mature sexpot. The last time she made a bold declaration, the New Year's resolution to straighten up and find a decent man in Bridget Jones's Diary, she connected with Darcy and Hugh Grant's Daniel Cleaver. This time she meets the dashing Jack, while the brooding Darcy reasserts himself. Zellweger's wise, light-hearted performance anchors this happy reunion, a surprising and refreshing gift from a creative well that seemed to have run dry.