Renee Zellweger is charming as ever in "Bridget Jones's Baby ," a lively return to form for the unlikely trilogy about an ordinary woman and her professional and romantic woes. It turns out a little break is just what this series needed to find its footing after the manic missteps of "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason," which fell into some of the all too common traps of sequels looking to up the stakes (hello, Thailand prison sequence).
That's likely due to the fact that Sharon Maguire, who directed the practically perfect "Bridget Jones's Diary," is back (Beeban Kidron directed the second), working from a script from author Helen Fielding, Emma Thompson (very funny as an unamused doctor) and Dan Mazer.
Let's get over the silly fact that this movie essentially had to press reboot on the happy ending of the second, when Bridget said at the end how even at 33 she was able to find love and happiness with one Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). Cut to 12 years later (between movies), Bridget is in her 40s and Mark Darcy has gone off and married someone else.
But this is an evolved Bridget.
Sure, she might be eating dessert alone in that same old London flat on that same old couch listening to the same old Celine Dion song, but it's not tragic. It just is. Her friends all flaked on her and so she has a night by herself. The sense is "whatever" not "woe is me."
Indeed, her life looks pretty good. She's now a high-profile TV news producer who seems happy at work — gone are the fireman's pole humiliations of on-camera life. She's also fitter (and quite happy about it) and has gotten a fancier wardrobe befitting of her success.
When her younger friend and co-worker Miranda (a terrific Sarah Solemani) invites her to a weekend getaway, Bridget arrives at the airport looking like a Nancy Meyers leading lady in cream and white. Of course, she doesn't realize they're going to an outdoor music festival. So, she falls in some mud, but she also gets the attention of Jack (Patrick Dempsey). He's a single, not sleazy relationship guru who is immediately smitten with Bridget.
She has a good time with Jack and goes on her way. A few weeks later, she finds herself having an unexpectedly romantic night with a now-separated Darcy. She walks away from that, too, and continues on with life until she gets the news that she's pregnant. It could be either Darcy's or Jack's.
Both men hop to the challenge, trying to out-partner one another at every turn. Is this a fantasy, or is this just men being kind to the woman who is possibly carrying their child? Does it really matter?
Much of the original cast is back and wonderful (Jim Broadbent, Gemma Jones, Sally Phillips and Shirley Henderson), save for a sorely missed Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). You'll find out what happened to him.
There is still a madcap, slapstick jitteriness to dear Bridget, but calmness has emerged, too — that of a woman who has finally grown into her own skin. She is messy in that way that women in other rom coms "say" they are but never actually are. And she is certainly not the other single gal of her time, Carrie Bradshaw, who seemed to become less and less relatable as the years went by.
Though the premise of "Bridget Jones's Baby" makes it all seem like it's all about the guy again, it's never felt so much like Bridget's story. The man is just gravy. This movie, for all its comedic ridiculousness and wild circumstance of the paternity crisis, is a jubilant celebration of women.
If we're lucky, we'll get to check in with her again in another few years.
"Bridget Jones's Baby," a Universal Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "language, sex references and some nudity." Running time: 122 minutes. Three stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr