Diary entry: April 27.
Weight: 138 lbs.; Alcohol units: too many to count; Calories: including or not including the alcohol?; Cigarettes: at least 40.
Age 32 and Bridget Jones’ life is headed straight for spinster-ville. She realizes that “unless something changes soon, [her] major relationship is going to be with a bottle of wine.” Seizing New Year’s Day as an opportunity to start fresh, Bridget resolves to get her life under control. To lose 20 pounds. Stop smoking. Drink less. And to find a decent man—not another of the commitment-phobic variety for whom she has a perennial weakness. The strength to reform she’ll find in her diary.
It’s this journal, conspicuously void of personal pronouns, through which the audience follows Bridget’s year-long quest for self-improvement. Based on a Helen Fielding novel by the same name (which itself is loosely based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice), the story’s centerpiece is the choice Miss Jones must make between her charming-but-fickle boss, Daniel Cleaver, and her arrogant childhood pal Mark Darcy. As in Austen’s original, the hero’s pride is leveled, the heroine’s prejudice turns out to be unfounded and the two come together to live happily. Though in this case, perhaps not ever-after. Bridget winds up with a good-hearted man, but there’s no clear indication that she’s learned that staying out of bed until marriage is the best way to avoid emotional meltdown in the first place.
positive elements: Though Bridget is a horrible role model in many ways, it’s encouraging to see a major character onscreen who’s not super-skinny. (Renée Zellweger gained an unheard-of 20 pounds for this role, and her thighs show themselves to be less-than-firm in a few scenes.) Bridget learns that she’s lovable even if she fails to lose those pounds, and viewers could discover that the same is true in the real world.
Amidst Bridget’s own romantic turmoil, she helplessly watches the temporary break-up of her parents’ marriage. (Her fussy and neglected mother runs off with a Home Shopping Channel host.) Through the course of their separation, the relationship between Bridget and her father is shown to be mature and genuinely loving. As for Mom, the grass on the other side of the fence proves not to be as green as she���d hoped. Mr. and Mrs. Jones eventually reconcile and even have a serious discussion of what it will take to make things better the second time around. It’s a realistic and honorable tribute to the demands and rewards of long-term marriage.
To Bridget’s credit, she does learn a few things about real love. And makes a few smart decisions as a result. She rejects Daniel’s proposal because it’s obvious that he’s still wavering on the commitment question. And her fondness for Mark is sparked by his admission that he really likes her, just the way she is. It would make a nice start, but in this case it’s the beginning and end of the film’s unconditional love lesson. Not much to hang your hat on.
spiritual content: Bridget’s womanizing Uncle Geoffrey plans a “tarts and vicars” party, to which female guests are to come dressed as prostitutes and male guests as priests. Though the theme is dropped before the party actually takes place, some of the guests don’t receive that information (Bridget, for instance, shows up dressed as a Playboy bunny), so the semi-blasphemous motif gets some screen time anyway.
sexual content: One brief but graphic sex scene leaves little to the imagination. Several female characters show cleavage. Bridget and Daniel are seen in bed together on numerous occasions. Bridget has a habit of running around in her underwear. And dialogue is often sexually coarse.
Even more distressing than what this film shows is what it implies about sexual ethics. Partially because she’s a victim of her culture and partially because of her own stupid choices, Bridget has the idea that one ought to begin a relationship with sex and bother with the details (like love and commitment) later. She wears microscopic skirts and see-though blouses at work to attract Daniel’s attention. When he finally takes notice and asks her out, she manages to play it cool for a day or two. But their first dinner date ends in a sexual encounter on his apartment floor. (Not hard to predict after the audience sees Bridget preparing for the date by carefully choosing which underwear she wants to be seen in.)
All this is to say that in Bridget’s world, sex has been effectively divorced from childbearing, responsibility and the joys of marriage. To be sure, thoughts of marriage cross her mind several times. But they’re quickly replaced by the more “realistic” notion that permanency is not a viable expectation in relationships today. In one of the film’s most morally disturbing scenes, Bridget and Daniel are lying in bed immediately following sex. She asks if he loves her, and deliberately evading the question Daniel teasingly goes back to fooling around. That would be bad enough, but the next day, Bridget apologizes for even bringing up the subject of love.
violent content: As Bridget watches Fatal Attraction on TV, viewers see a woman being shot and killed. Daniel and Mark engage in an all-out adolescent fist fight over Bridget. Mark punches Daniel in the nose hard. Twice. The clash ends with the two tumbling through a plate glass window.
crude or profane language: Besides the sex, it’s the language that earns this film its R rating. Ten or so misuses of God and Jesus’ names. About a dozen mild profanities, along with six s-words and better than 30 f-words. One f-word is even scribbled across the screen as a random (and thankfully not repeated) special effect. What’s more, the only character development given to Bridget’s friend Shazza is that “she likes to say f—.” Totally unnecessary. Being set in London, the film also includes several uses of “bloody” and “shag,” both highly offensive words in the Queen’s English.
drug and alcohol content: Though Bridget ostensibly makes progress toward her objective of finding a good man, she fails miserably in her efforts to quit smoking and drinking. She and her friends constantly have cigarettes and liquor in hand. Sometimes one in each hand. Daniel smokes at work. Bridget shares a cigarette with her father and downs three shots in a row to drown her sorrows. And though they’re meant to be cute, the end credits cross the line by showing a young Bridget (really young—maybe six years old) sucking on two cigarettes and drinking wine from the bottle.
conclusion: Jane Austen’s novels, written and set in the early 19th century, have of late been a popular source of inspiration for big-screen directors. Sense and Sensibility got an outstanding (and fairly textually faithful) makeover in 1995. Emma has been given double treatment—with a film by the same title (1996) and in the teen hit Clueless (1995). And now Pride and Prejudice gets tacked on the storyboard. While it’s encouraging to see classics being revived, my growing concern is that some filmmakers are missing the point of the original works.
Austen’s stories translate well for today’s audiences because they showcase strong, independent women, even though they’re set in the early 1800s. Bridget Jones is certainly independent, but in contrast to Elizabeth Bennet (the character Bridget is based on), she’s a basket case. What’s the difference? A mystery Jane Austen understood well: the power of chastity. Austen’s heroines are strong, at least in part because they reserve sexual activity for marriage. And in the films that leave the stories in their original setting, this remains true. But in cases where filmmakers modernize the plots—and consequently “update” the sexual ethics—something big gets lost in the translation. The women may still be independent, but they’re also infinitely more vulnerable. Their desires may still be for protection, permanence and unconditional love (Bridget briefly explores all of these), but they’re reduced to game-playing, manipulation and performance analysis. The goal is to contemporize the stories, but the result is that they’re also weakened: it’s hard to really be happy for Bridget when there’s little guarantee that she’s not merely found herself another source of heartbreak.
There is no good reason for families to entertain themselves with Bridget Jones’s Diary. But it’s not a bad idea to get a handle on Hollywood’s habit of defacing classic stories by disregarding what made them work in the first place. Teens are getting the wrong message from every side; it’s up to parents to intercept the lies and replace them with truth.