Friday, May 2, 2014

Bridget Jones's Diary

The Romantic Comedy Blogathon is exactly what it says on the tin. It is hosted by Carole & Co. and Backlots. For a complete list of participating bloggers, please click on the links at either site.





Bridget Jones's Diary
seen on TV @ AMC
4.18.14

There's been some talk lately about the decline of the romantic comedy. It's one of the oldest and traditionally most lucrative genres in Hollywood, and as such, it's bound to change and evolve, as storytelling genres do. But I gotta say... if a movie like Bridget Jones's Diary is an example of modern romcoms, then it's either due for a major overhaul or a major burial. 

I know this was a hugely popular movie when it came out, based on an equally popular novel, but is a movie like this really supposed to represent what the modern woman thinks about when she goes dating? Needless to say, this provided me with precious little insight, partly because it's a poorly-made movie, but mostly because I don't know anyone even remotely like Bridget Jones - and I get the impression that she's supposed to somehow be representative of Single Women Everywhere.





It was different back in the day. Romcoms had bizarre, singular women characters, played by legends like Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, Irene Dunne, Jean Arthur, Claudette Colbert, Judy Holliday, and more, and they were never meant to be Everywomen. They were exceptional: ditzy heiresses with pet leopards, con artists hustling nerdy scientists, dumb blondes with charm and innocence. 

Their exceptional nature, combined with the skill of the great actresses who played them, made them memorable. They were women you couldn't ignore or take for granted, whether their male suitors loved them or hated them or feared them. The fun in watching them was seeing how they'd get together with the objects of their affection, as you knew they would.



While I have no problem with trying to craft more realistic characters in modern romcoms, the problem with ones like Bridget is that they seem to have men on the brain all the time. I thought about the single women over 30 that I know - and for what it's worth, I had to really think about who they are, because I don't know that many anymore - and if they have one thing in common, I'd say it's that they have something else that keeps their lives fulfilled other than a man, and if that bothers them, well, they don't talk about it a great deal (at least not on social media).

Plus, it doesn't help that in the movie, Bridget's dilemma, such as it is, involves having to choose between the lesser of two dicks, one of whom is her sexually-harassing boss (but she wanted it, so it's okay... I guess?). It's not like her parents pressure her to get married, or she keeps seeing her friends getting married or anything - she seems to put most of the burden of finding a man on herself because that's what the plot requires. She's basically a British CathyI never believed that she wanted either of those guys as anything other than a short-term fling to stave off loneliness and Zod forbid, being a spinster (a word she actually uses, more than once).



Gary Cooper appealed to Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire because his perpetual square-ness had a charm that she grew used to over time, and cherished. Dean Martin appealed to Judy Holliday in Bells are Ringing because he tried so hard to be a successful writer, fighting even his own nature. Melvyn Douglas appealed to Greta Garbo in Ninotchka because he was able to see beyond her way of life, which was so alien to him. Hugh Grant and Colin Firth's characters in Diary don't have that spark of something special - indeed, in the movie's climax they end up fist-fighting, in over-the-top movie fashion, over her.

I should also say something about Bridget's weight. While it's clear that she has a bit of a self-image problem, it wasn't as big an issue as I expected. She may be pudgy, but it's only Hollywood Pudgy, and while it's admirable that Renee Zellweger put on weight for the role, she was no Melissa McCarthy, obviously. Frankly, given how Zellweger looked with the added weight and without it, there's no doubt in my mind that losing it was a change for the worst.



And then there's the music - the relentless use of pop standards that telegraph the action in the movie and ostensibly tell you what you're supposed to feel. I love a good soundtrack as much as the next guy, but there's no art, no imagination and certainly no subtlety to the way Diary uses its music. A cover of "All By Myself" which Bridget sings alone in her apartment? Aretha's "Respect" as Bridget tells off her boss? A bad cover of "It's Raining Men" as Grant and Firth are fighting? Is that the best this movie can do? Look at any Wes Anderson movie by comparison and you'll see the difference immediately.

Apart from reanimating the corpses of Ernst Lubitsch and George Cukor, I don't know what can be done about modern romcoms. Sure, every once in awhile you get a genuine gem like Enough Said or Think Like a Man, but most of the time, it's movies like Diary that get made, and women eat them up... but then, women are starved for quality movies these days, so maybe they can't be blamed for taking what they can get. Hollywood can do better.

14 comments:

  1. I had come to the conclusion that it must be a generation gap thing that kept me from understanding/relating to Bridget Jones. Is this what the feminist movement had come to?! It (the movie) and she (BJ) annoyed me. I would calm down by reminding myself that it is a comedy. Perhaps an exaggerated view played up for the funny effect. But, again, it just annoyed me.

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  2. So it wasn't just me. Good to know.

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  3. Rich, I think you make many fair points about the comedy (especially the lack of subtlety), but I love the same classic films you do, and enjoyed this one too. Yes, she's an insecure woman and obsessed with men, but she's also endearing. While most of my single friends in their 30s would never obsess like this, I've met many women who do, most of whom are quite successful in their careers (doctors, lawyers, etc.), but feel vulnerable on the romantic front. Yes, Bridget is insecure, but she puts herself out there--and often with humorous results. And since it's loosely based on Pride and Prejudice, Fielding was thinking Darcy and Wickham, neither of whom are wholly likeable. Bridget's not the kind of role model many 30s and 40s heroines are, it's true! And the dialogue is far from that caliber. But I bought her as a real person, and found her honesty a lot of fun.

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  4. Zellweger does seem to have fun in the role, I'll give you that. And I'll also concede that Helen Fielding must have drawn upon some real-life experiences (hers or others or both) to create the Bridget character. If you liked her, maybe there's something there I'm not seeing... but I doubt it.

    Didn't know it was inspired by 'Pride & Prejudice,' but then, I never read it.

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  5. I would have to watch this again to give my full take, but any enjoyment I had of Bridget was definitely within the framework of a clever little re-do of Pride and Prejudice. Colin Firth, who was meant to be the Darcy-esque character, even played Darcy in a well-liked BBC mini-series of P&P just six years earlier.

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  6. I suppose Firth's character actually being called 'Darcy' should have been more of a tip-off for me, but it wasn't. Maybe it seemed too obvious a connection?

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  7. My biggest problem with Bridget Jones' Diary is that the film doesn't compare to the book. Whilst the film does contain a lot of the neurosis that Bridge and co deal with in the book, I felt like they had more depth and substance in print, and there seems a lot more social pressure re. marriage, babies etc, thus making them more understandable. For me, the novel was Hollywood-ised too much during the adaptation (it's trying too hard to be both a comedy and a romance) and it's the lesser for it. The film version certainly heralded a gradual decline in rom coms, if you thought the first film was bad I wouldn't recommend going anywhere near the second...!

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  8. Doesn't surprise me at all that the book was more nuanced than the film.

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  9. I found Bridget Jones of the book more charming than Bridget Jones of the movie. I thought Rene Zellweger and the other cast members did a fine job, but I just didn't enjoy the movie that much. I'm one who loves to watch romcoms over and over, but I saw this one once and let it go at that.

    However, I'm glad you included a recent romcom in the blogathon. :)

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  10. Thanks. It's not often that I choose to write about a movie I hate, but I knew I could say a few important things about this one.

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  11. Rich, I agree with girlsdofilm about the second film. Whatever you do, avoid that one. If you thought the first one was bad, you'll loathe that one:) One of those films I wish I could un-watch. Leah

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  12. It wasn't exactly in my future plans. No worries.

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  13. I haven't watched this one, but my mom has.Now I'm glad I haven't! You made a great point about why a romcom today is so much worse than th ones in the past. I believe now everything is permitted, and also there is no more wittiness in writing.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Greetings!
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com.br/2014/05/adoravel-vagabundo-meet-john-doe-1941.html

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  14. It's not completely unbearable to watch, but it's nothing special either.

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