By Ila Ananya
If you’ve enjoyed reading and watching Bridget Jones (not necessarily the second, quite forgettable film), you won’t be prepared for the new Bridget Jones film that released yesterday.
It begins very familiarly, with Bridget (Renee Zellweger) alone on her 43rd birthday, blowing out a candle on a cupcake, with Celine Dion’s mournful ‘All By Myself’ playing in the background.
Suddenly the music changes to rap and we see Bridget mouthing the words to the song, making faces and dancing with a glass of wine in her hand. The scene ends with an image of Bridget’s feet in funny looking socks, jumping on her spring bed in a way that doesn’t make her seem mopey any longer.
But after all this comforting familiarity with the older films, it’s all downhill — Bridget seems to forget how to do things on her own. My friend calls it the Fall of the Bridget Jones Empire.
The trailer will tell you the basic story. Bridget has sex with Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey) at a music festival, and a few days later, with Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). She gets pregnant. She doesn’t know who the father is.
The rest of the film is a competition between the men to prove who will be there for her more. Of course, neither of them really are. In the end, when her water breaks, Bridget has to be carried by both her knights in shining armour — I can’t believe she literally calls Darcy this when she’s talking to her unborn son —to the hospital. What’s worse is that it isn’t just any old traffic jam that’s blocking their way; it’s a march for women’s rights.
There’s a very obvious gap between the third book in Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones series, Mad About the Boy, and this third film.
The new film isn’t based on the book at all — in Mad About the Boy, Darcy is dead, and Bridget has two children to look after. She’s struggling to be a single mother, has just landed a job as a scriptwriter, and dates a much younger toy boy called Roxster. She thinks of Darcy often, before telling herself she must get a grip and move on with the things she has to do. Is it so hard to believe that as a film, the same story wouldn’t sell?
When Mad About the Boy released in 2013, the book received a lot of criticism. Sarah Elizabeth Richards, for instance, wrote in a review for Time that what she had really wanted was to see Bridget navigating married life when for two books she had made fun of ‘Smug Marrieds’, and watch her trying to puree organic baby food. The review, while irritating (why is it so hard to accept a not-so-grown-up Bridget?), is telling of the sense of ownership that readers and viewers feel for Bridget Jones.
Although Bridget Jones’s Diary (the first book), is by far my favourite of the series, I liked reading Mad About the Boy.
The disappointed reviews of the latest book reminded me of why I enjoyed reading Bridget Jones; I felt incredibly like Bridget, in all her confusion and uncertainty, in wanting to make something of herself, in moments she asserted herself, and in moments when she didn’t. When it seemed like Bridget was whining too much, I told myself it didn’t matter, because despite all this, she didn’t depend on other people. As viewers, this is who we relate to.
The thing about watching Bridget in this third film is that she’s unfamiliarly glamorous — as much as I’d like to say that it shouldn’t matter if Bridget was skinny, or if she wore fancy clothes, it does. Now, the scene from this film in which she tries to wear skinny jeans doesn’t work, because I can see that it shouldn’t be difficult for her to pull them on, that she doesn’t have to struggle in the way that I do.
In the novels and the first film of Bridget Jones, there’s a self that we see Bridget constructing, assuming that there’s a self that can be remade in such a way that one is in control, and that this control can be achieved by anyone. Perhaps as viewers we relate to her because this is what we are striving for as well — to be an independent woman who has made something of herself and is the source of her own happiness, who is ambitious, and has many friends.
Bridget Jones’s Baby seems to forget this Bridget we’ve become familiar with. It’s too neat, with a perfect, well-tailored ending. It makes Bridget consider Qwant, who in what he obviously thinks is a romantic move (and so do the few sighing people in the theatre), say that on their hypothetical second date, he would choose her food for her, and bring her flowers after they’ve had their first fight — of course, it has to be about whether or not Qwant was flirting with a waitress.
Reviews, like this one, seem happy with this third film. But the film forgets that while Bridget does want a man to be in a relationship with, she’s also perfectly capable of handling things on her own. Bridget’s gynaecologist tells her this, but it’s only a passing line in a two-hour film.
The Bridget of the books recognises that reality is far more complicated than the rational, fixed world that she’s aspiring for; perhaps I’ve frozen Bridget into this character, but that might not be such a terrible thing. I’d much rather have watched a film version of Mad About the Boy. I went to watch Bridget Jones’s Baby, curious to know about this new plot that was so unlike that third book, but I hadn’t expected to see a new, glamorous, less independent Bridget, so unlike the women in the first two films I'd always comfortably connected with..
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