By Madelyn M. Ritrosky-Winslow
2004. All rights reserved.
Entertainment Magazine

It’s the film I could hardly wait to see – and I know I’m not alone.  For me, this kind of anticipation was out of the ordinary.  I have never before looked forward to a film the way I have with Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (wide release November 19, 2004).

Of course, there is a completely rational explanation for this:  I’d already spent lots of time delving into the first film, Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), and press coverage of the filming of the sequel for a forthcoming article in Quarterly Review of Film and Video.  But this, of course, is just an excuse – even though it’s true. 

It’s the men of these women’s movies who I find entirely captivating, especially Colin Firth as Mark Darcy.  To be more specific, it’s Firth and Renée Zellweger together as they portray Mark and Bridget, this time lurching their way to the realization that a lasting relationship takes more than love – it takes trust, hard work, and compromise.

Unlike Diary, the sequel is not about being a singleton in search of love – it’s about the bumpy road once Bridget has found that love.  It’s a very bumpy road as she and Mark have to reach a place where they can unreservedly give themselves to each other, in the committed relationship they both ultimately want. 

I think I’ve left out something important here…  Oh yes, there’s that other sexy guy who temporarily re-visits his morally suspect but almost irresistible charm on Bridget.  Hugh Grant as Daniel Cleaver once again competes with Firth as Mark for the Most Delicious Man of the Year Award.  Which one stirs Bridget’s soul – down to the core – in a stew of emotions (or is that blue soup)?

If you saw the first film or read the books, it’s no secret – as much as the producers want us on pins and needles, there’s only Mark for Bridget.  However, when it comes to audiences, everyone has a personal favorite – exciting Daniel, romantic Mark … or both. Universal’s website for the film offers a poll:  which man promises the perfect night in?  When I checked, with thousands of votes already cast, Mark Darcy led Daniel Cleaver by more than 5 to 1.

Speaking of the perfect night in with Mark Darcy, I was expecting Bridget and Mark to reunite toward the end of the film in some sort of romantic sex scene.  (They do it “all night” in the book.)  We know they relish each other – “71 ecstatic shags” in 6 weeks – but that part of their reuniting is not to be seen.  Darn it.  There is a romantic reunion, but it’s done with a big dose of self-referential playfulness.

The filmmakers obviously wanted to make sure they were not simply duplicating the incredibly romantic ending of Diary – the famous kiss in the snow (which, by the way, I analyze in detail in that forthcoming Quarterly Review piece).  Besides, could they top that?  As the press kit and director and actor comments make clear, the goal was to create a film that was distinct from the first one and from standard romantic comedies. 

Our heroine is certainly distinct from typical female protagonists.  The films (and books) are from the point of view of this atypical heroine, a metaphorical ordinary woman whose journey of self-discovery pays off – though, at the end, I couldn’t help thinking of the reports speculating on a potential third journey.  Anyway, this is a woman with whom we can identify. 

I love Renée as Bridget and love seeing better, stronger, more unusual roles for women like this one.  She struggles with her own insecurities.  She struggles to take her relationship with Mark to another level.  She struggles with her attraction to Daniel.  Yet neither she nor Mark can completely give up when their emotional bond is so deep.

In the end, Bridget Jones is the epitome of the indomitable spirit.  And the film positions us squarely with her triumph, even as it plays with the conventions of romantic fiction – such as the Sound of Music montage where Bridget and Mark run to each other in slow motion on top of a hill. 

One could potentially say about these films what Bridget euphorically writes to open the Edge of Reason book:  “Hurrah!  The wilderness years are over.”  It’s certainly hurrah for the Edge of Reason film for its gender dynamics and self-referential take on the whole Bridget Jones experience.  But I seriously doubt the media’s wilderness years are over in terms of roles for and images of women.

Zellweger as Bridget is an audience favorite – just as the men are.  I think that’s a large part of the popularity of the original movie and why all signs point to the sequel doing booming business as well.  There are not one, not two, but three extremely appealing stars and characters, each appealing in quite different ways.  They’ve got sparkling three-way chemistry.

So Renée as Bridget is only part of the story of the Bridget Jones experience.  Colin as Mark and Hugh as Daniel are the other inimitable parts.  What’s great about these films is seeing the men from the woman’s point of view.  From my own reactions and those of many other women, it is clear that Bridget’s men hold a powerful allure for the female audience.  The men are integral to Bridget’s journey.

While some feminists – and I am a feminist myself – dislike yet another female character pinning her hopes for happiness on Mr. Right, there is much more going on in these films.  They are more complicated in their gender dynamics than this.  For instance, Firth and Grant bring non-traditional masculinity (with considerable sex appeal) to these films, while Zellweger as Bridget is an atypical leading lady (more “real” in many ways than most).

A perfect example is the pregnancy test scene.  For Bridget, there are two competing emotions:  scary prospect and the desire to have a child with Mark.  When Mark walks in on Bridget doing the test, she asks him how he feels about it.  I did not expect his response – not even from Mark Darcy.  He smiles and says it would be fantastic.  Wow.

We get characters, stars, plots, and images that, taken together, shake things up a little – these are not exactly conventional representations of masculinity or femininity.  This is what Helen Fielding (author and screenwriter), Sharon Maguire (director of the first film), and Beeban Kidron (director of the sequel) were after – the sometimes uncertain and contradictory desires of real women (of everyone really), as well as men who defy easy categorization yet also represent polar opposites in the spectrum of women’s fantasies about men.

Unlike most movies, the Bridget Jones films allow women (and men to some extent) to fully identify with a female protagonist in terms of her many and complicated desires – which include her multi-faceted desires for two men as well as her overriding desire for the one who truly satisfies and loves her.

Thus, for the primarily female audience, the pleasure is twofold:  our identification with vulnerable yet feisty Bridget, coupled with the sexual intrigue of two gorgeous men desiring her – the most gorgeous man (in his heart) promising a lifetime of love.

NEXT: Lust Actually: Bridget Jones’s Men

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2004 Entertainment Magazine
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