Movie Postmortems: BRIDGET JONES’ BABY

by John S.

Movie Postmortem is a series that reviews certain films which showed promise but misfired, critically and/or commercially, upon release. Join us in our attempt to find out exactly what the hell happened.

THE CASUALTY: Bridget Jones’ Baby

THE CASE HISTORY: England 1996. Helen Fielding publishes a book about a hapless thirtysomething London bachelorette and her misadventures in work and love. Predating the Sex and the City book and cable series, the novel is titled Bridget Jones’ Diary and becomes a popular hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Naturally, a movie adaptation looms.

Rachel Weisz, Toni Collette, Kate Winslet, Helena Bonham-Carter, Cate Blanchett and even Cameron Diaz are considered for the lead role. Eventually, in early 2000 Rene Zellweger is announced as Bridget Jones. There is understandable consternation on the part of many Brits about the casting of an American in what has become a modern iconic British role.

Any misgivings about Zellweger as Bridget Jones are dispelled when the movie is released worldwide in April 2001. Her performance (and accent) are praised on both sides of the pond, and she even receives an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress that year. Bridget Jones’ Diary grosses about $71 million in the US and finishes at $280 million globally. Off a $25 million production budget, that makes it a solid success.

Naturally, there is a sequel. Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason opens everywhere in November 2004. Critical notices are less stellar and it grosses $40 million in the US – only half of the original’s North American box-office. Overseas, though, it still plays like gangbusters and pulls in an additional $220 million in a very nice save.

Talks of a threequel rise and fall over the next decade. Finally, in 2011 the project officially moves forward with Zellweger back as Bridget. Colin Firth and Hugh Grant are also onboard again as her two warring suitors. Entitled Bridget Jones’ Baby, the plot is based on an original script co-written by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Ghostbusters). Eventually, Grant leaves the project. Some reports allege he is not happy with the quality of the screenplay.

The departure of this major player necessitates substantial rewrites and leaves a vacancy for the third side of the film’s ongoing love triangle. There are also other major crew departures which lead to more years-long delays. Then, in 2015, Patrick Dempsey (Grey’s Anatomy) is cast as Love Interest #2. Sharon  Maguire, the director of the first film, also joins the production – and the film is once again back on track. Filming begins in October of that year.

September 2016. Bridget Jones’ Baby is released in North America. The movie eventually tops out domestically at only $24 million. Fortunately, the Bridget Jones brand is still strong overseas and the flick pulls in another $200 million from foreign territories, making it an international hit like the first two films. In the United States, however, Bridget Jones’ Baby misses the mark.

So… what the hell happened?

THE AUTOPSY DETAILS: A key factor to the strength of the Bridget Jones movies (even this one) is Renee Zellweger in the lead role. Zellweger makes Bridget sympathetic, hilarious, and immensely likable. Any other actress – even some of the very talented ones considered during casting – could not have delivered the same combo of goofy good cheer, down-to-earth relatability, and wistful emotion that Zellweger characterizes Bridget with. She brings these same qualities to the third film, and even underlines them with a melancholy undercurrent that emphasizes the compromises Bridget has made and resigned herself to.

It’s more likely that the 12-year gap between the second film and this one was too long to sustain any momentum with American audiences, whose interest seemed to already be flagging when they didn’t turn out for the second film as much as they did for the first. Add to that the general belief that American movie audiences and their tastes have significantly changed over the last decade or so, with mainstream romantic comedies almost becoming quaint, and it becomes clear that Bridget Jones’ Baby was up against a lot in the US.

That doesn’t mean that the film itself is blame-free, though. While it is entertaining and good fun, it is easily the least of the three films. Largely due to the absence of Hugh Grant, who made Daniel Cleaver such an alluring bad boy that you couldn’t help but root for him somehow. Grant’s screen presence and Daniel’s irreverence even rubbed off on Colin Firth’s stuffy Mark Darcy in the first two films and made him look more interesting than he actually was. Even though Bridget wound up with Mark repeatedly, there was always the sense that it was temporary and Bad Boy Daniel would soon be back to shake things up.

In Bridget Jones’ Baby, however, Patrick Dempsey’s Jack Qwant is not an adequate replacement for Daniel. While Dempsey is likable and even funny in parts, what made the first two films work is the constant push-pull that marks all strong love triangles, which usually feature vividly-contrasting rivals. Here, though, Mark and Jack don’t seem all that distinct from one another. Take away the difference in nationality and they could be the same person. This weakens the central conflict and when the whole film rests on that conflict, the movie is also weakened.

LIKELY CAUSE OF DEATH: It’s tempting to say that the departure of Hugh Grant doomed a film franchise that was always better because of his presence in it, but it’s more likely that American audiences as a whole are just not as into Bridget Jones as the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. Maybe it was a combination of the two.

NEXT CASUALTY: Catwoman – “Halle Berry is… CATWOMAN.”

After a summer dominated by the mega-success of Wonder Woman, it’s very easy to forget that not all female-driven comic book movies are as lucky. In 2004, the long-awaited big-screen solo vehicle of the popular Feline Anti-Heroine from the DC Universe was released… and promptly became one of the most notorious turkeys in cinema history. Is it really that bad, though?

 

 

John S. is a Scarecrow volunteer who loves James Bond, Jason Bourne, Italian Gialli, Argento, Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Theo James in anything, Steve Zahn in everything, Halloween (movie & holiday), South Park (cartoon & neighborhood), and Scarecrow Video – not necessarily in that order.

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