USA TODAY US Edition

Zell­weger brings life to 3rd ‘Bridget Jones’ film

- BRIAN TRUITT

Not only is there an im­por­tant birth in Bridget Jones’s Baby, the new film also marks a re­birth for Renée Zell­weger.

The ac­tress proves she’s back in a big way play­ing the long­suf­fer­ing Bri­tish sin­gle­ton for a third time in the ro­man­tic com­edy ( out of four; rated R; in the­aters Fri­day). It draws from He­len Field­ing ’s col­umns for Eng­land’s The In­de­pen­dent news­pa­per rather than her Bridget nov­els. And while it un­abashedly leans into its chick-flick na­ture, re­turn­ing direc­tor Sharon Maguire — who helmed 2001’s fran­chise-starter Bridget Jones’s Diary — man­ages to craft the strong­est and fun­ni­est film of the series.

This time around, Bridget’s a lit­tle less All By My­self and a touch more Jump Around: She’s lean and mean at an ac­cept­able fight­ing weight and lov­ing her job as a Bri­tish news pro­ducer. But as she turns 43, she finds her­self stuck be­tween mommy pals and 30-some­thing party-hard work friends.

Dur­ing a jaunt to a rowdy mu­sic fes­ti­val with her news-an­chor bestie (Sarah Sole­mani), she lit­er­ally falls into the bed of rich, fun-lov­ing Amer­i­can dat­ing-site mogul Jack Qwant (Pa­trick Dempsey).

A few days later, Bridget re­con­nects — in more ways than one — with her old beau, the im­pos­si­bly stiff lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). Some weeks later, she dis­cov­ers why she’s hav­ing trou­ble fit­ting into her skinny jeans: Bridget is preg­gers thanks to a box of ex­pired con­doms. Be­cause of the tim­ing, it could be ei­ther Jack or Mark’s baby.

The char­ac­ter is up to her usual shenani­gans — not telling the whole truth about her preg­nancy to fam­ily mem­bers (and the two pos­si­ble dads try­ing to out-ma­cho each other) — and yet Bridget feels fully fleshed out for the first time in Baby.

She’s con­sid­ered a “geri­atric” mother by her hi­lar­i­ously dead-- pan OB/GYN (a sen­sa­tional Emma Thomp­son).

Still, Bridget proves ca­pa­ble of tak­ing on moth­er­hood while fig­ur­ing out her ro­man­tic sit­u­a­tion, not to men­tion deal­ing with the hip­sters at her job try­ing to re­place good journalism with cats that look like Hitler. It’s a well­done work­place con­flict that adds mod­ern rel­e­vance to the frothy rom-com at­mos­phere.

Bridget Jones’s Baby can’t es­cape its in­her­ent tropes: Girlpower vibes are abun­dant though not over­pow­er­ing, and the sound­track is filled with feel-good pop (fans of Ed Sheeran will en­joy his en­ter­tain­ing cameo). What dif­fer­en­ti­ates it, how­ever, from Sex and

the City or most any­thing you’d see on Bravo is how it ig­nores snark in fa­vor of a goofy, in­fec­tious sweet­ness.

Dempsey brings a healthy amount of charm to his debonair Amer­i­can, and Firth show­cases his wealth of tal­ent as the end­lessly re­pressed Darcy. (Hugh Grant sits this one out, but his Daniel Cleaver is still felt in a cou­ple of scenes.)

As much as the guys pull their weight, this is re­ally Zell­weger’s show, and she owns every bit of it.

She hasn’t been seen much the past few years — her last ma­jor role was 2009’s New in Town, and it’s been more than a decade since the dis­ap­point­ing Bridget Jones:

The Edge of Rea­son. This third film lets Zell­weger ex­hibit her charm­ing ef­fer­ves­cence and prove she’s still a bank­able star.

In other words, Baby, she’s still got it.

 ?? SUSIE ALLNUTT ??
SUSIE ALLNUTT

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