As far as romantic comedies go, I almost always dislike something. Maybe one character is written poorly, a plot line is out of place, or some of the themes are indirectly sexist. Yet, after watching Bridget Jones’s Diary, I can’t think of anything all that bad to say about it. Overall, this is an endearing, funny, and unique romcom that both utilizes tropes and norms of the genre while managing to have a style all its own. But does this movie merely not screw anything up, or is it actually a romcom worth seeing?
Plot: Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) is a slightly awkward Londoner who falls for her fairly sleazy, womanizing boss, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). She does not realize that he is any of these things. Her mother, who is constantly trying to set her up with men, tries to introduce her to a bloke named Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), but the two don’t get along. Bridget tries to improve her sense of self-worth while going through ups and downs with the two male leads.
For some of you, the plot might be vaguely familiar. The story is a modern interpretation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which was adapted by the BBC into one of the most entertaining miniseries I’ve ever seen, starring…Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. The way this movie toys with its origins is delightful and gives the narrative a slightly classical structure to play with.
For those that have read Ms. Austen’s delightful novel, or seen the miniseries, then you know that Darcy is a contrast to the female lead. The two represent Pride and Prejudice, respectively, and Bridget Jones maintains that. Darcy can be a bit snooty and Bridget is quick to judge Darcy based on Daniel’s claims. What I found interesting, however, was that Bridget quickly falls for the wrong guy, who is much more obviously sleazy to us than Wickham is in the book/series. Darcy shows up less frequently. But his appearances are ever-important, as the broodiness of the character in the classic incarnations is left for a more awkward, sometimes mean, but often well-intentioned persona. Colin Firth also uses this opportunity to parody his performance as the original Darcy, occasionally reusing that stare that captured so many of our hearts.But there are also some more subtle touches of the P&P connection. For instance, in the original text, the female lead’s parents are married but largely uninterested in each other. The mother wishes to marry all her daughters and the father is uninterested in most things besides one or two of his kids. In Bridget Jones, the mother is constantly introducing potential dates to her daughter, and the father is uncomfortable with all the Christmas parties. But in this version, the parents split, which makes sense in a modern take. What kind of couple would stay together these days when they’re hardly able to be in a room together?
I don’t want to make this all about how well Bridget Jones plays with the material though, because even as a standalone romcom, this movie is damn good. The humor is distinctly British, in that it relies on Bridget’s awkwardness and other slightly absurd characters. But for a movie to rely on a cringe-inducing main character, it also has to make us care about and root for her. I think this was a resounding success, as Renee Zellweger nails the role of an awkward and flawed, yet interesting main character.
I think that she’s what made me love this movie, ultimately. One complaint I have for stories is when a character is so simplistic that she doesn’t at all complicate our view of what a main character should be or do. An example of this would be Harry Potter, where Harry always makes the right choice, never really does anything bad, and ultimately acts like a perfect hero from beginning to end. A lot of romantic comedies similarly have leads that are almost never in the wrong, or at most are caught in a misunderstanding that needs to be resolved. Bridget, on the other hand, is quick to judge, slow to pick up on how gross Daniel is, and says the wrong thing at least half of the time. Yet, she’s interesting and tries to be a better person, and so we can root for her while also recognizing her flaws. She’s actually a complex character. It’s almost as if she’s human and well-written.
Another aspect of Bridget that I particularly enjoy is her relatively (you know, to romcoms) strong sense of independence and self-worth. She really scrapes the bottom of the barrel with Daniel, who doesn’t seem to respect her at all. But when they have a tiff, she doesn’t go into I-need-a-new-man mode, but rather dumps her books on how to please men and buys some books on how to value herself. She focuses on making herself happy via personal improvement Ultimately, this is a movie about Bridget, not about her relationships, but about her life. The male leads are a part of her life, but not its defining characteristic. The script handles this really well.
While I’m praising the script, I also want to point out that it is overall really, really solid. The characters talk like real people, the events are not predictable despite using some familiar plot sequences (a misunderstanding leads to one character chasing the other down so that they can reconcile), and the dialogue is funny. I don’t mean run-of-the-mill, chuckle-here-and-there romcom funny, but genuinely hilarious and clever. There are smart callbacks to earlier lines and scenes, good physical humor, a clever use of awkwardness (and not just relying on us laughing uncomfortably), and, most importantly, a dedication to character. The last bit doesn’t sound related to comedy, but the most annoying thing a movie can do is sacrifice aspects of the character that have been established in order to make a cheap joke. Bridget Jones is, as far as I can recall, never guilty of that.
I really cannot think of much to say against this movie. Is it a groundbreaking, genre-defying masterpiece? No. But it’s funny, sweet, engaging, smart, and thoroughly enjoyable. As far as “standard” romantic comedies go, this is what should be strived for: a movie with an interesting, complex main character whose life, which includes a love life, unfolds intriguingly over the story.