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Shari L. Rosenblum

Bridget Jones. Icon of post-feminist regression and celebration of marriage uber alles?

Au contraire.

Neither role model nor nemesis, Bridget Jones is the epitome of the liberated woman - she can match macho in drink, smoke and swearing; she will stand up to anyone; and she takes both reputable career and sexual freedom for granted. Of course, she's not the face any right-minded liberated woman would show to the public - she's rather the face we're afraid we'll see in the mirror with the public staring at us from behind, over our shoulders. Not just the face, really. Also the body. And the clothes. And the underclothes. And, of course, most of all, the inner voice. The one that says "Oh, f--k" at each best laid plan gone astray. And says it quite a bit. The one that makes us do the things that make us say "Oh, f--k."

The diary is the perfect platform to record that inner voice. Bridget Jones's Diary, the film adaptation of Helen Fielding's popular novel by the same name, seems to take us out of the diary format, but a kick here (were those her daily entries on a public neon newsflasher?) and a jab there (did the naked girl in the bathroom of her boyfriend's flat really say "I thought you said she was thin"? ) along with a self-mockingly referential soundtrack remind us that our perspective is respectfully and gleefully skewed along the lines of Bridget's own perceptions, albeit enlightened periodically by the things she does not see but we wish she would.

Renee Zellweger is naturally engaging as the titular diarist, whom we meet just as she resolves, clearly not for the first time, to lose weight, cut down on alcohol and tobacco, and stop falling for the wrong men. She appears fleshy and real, apparently the result of 15 or so pounds added to a size 2 body (in some universe so alternate to mine I choke on the concept), and allows herself to be stuffed into outfits small enough and tight enough to best show her to her greatest disadvantages. The actress's willingness to play the role for all it is worth makes Bridget come endearingly alive.

But what has Bridget to complain about, really? Sure, she's thirtysomething and single, makes mishmash of would-be articulateness (try not to laugh as she introduces the "greatest book of our time" to an audience that includes Salman Rushdie and Jeffrey Archer) and trips over all things reverential (dead lit crits, televised firehouse interviews, political asylum, other people's engagement parties). But for all the glaring faults she highlights in herself, Bridget winds up with the unbearably enviable dilemma of having to choose between great sex with her adorably caddish boss of easy wit and easier virtue (Daniel Cleaver, played deliciously by Hugh Grant) and the promise of who knows what with the haughtily mouth-watering parentally-approved upstanding barrister (the delectfully Darcian Colin Firth) in whose wading pool she once ran naked.

If neither the BBC version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, nor its hardly coincidental lead actor (Mr. Firth as Mr. Darcy), is overtly mentioned in the film, as it is repeatedly throughout the book, Bridget nonetheless comes across most assuredly as a latter day sister of that novel's first sister of romance, Elizabeth Bennett. And Firth's doubly intertextual Mark Darcy stands out unmistakably as the reincarnated ideal who makes short work of transformation from supercilious to sublime. Makes even a bad girl want to kiss a nice boy just like that.

It is not surprising, really, that Andrew Davies, whose credits include work on that same production of Pride and Prejudice, collaborated with Fielding on the screenplay, along with Richard Curtis, whose Four Weddings and a Funeral set off the film's other heartthrob, Hugh Grant, to such an appealing start. Still, the offering is a bit too streamlined, abbreviating a well-tuned and better acted subplot about Bridget's parents (Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent), and all but obliterating the group of friends that complete Bridget's consciousness, up to and including the fully feminist Shazza, ostensibly modeled on director and Fielding friend, Sharon Maguire.

Flawed though it may be, nonetheless, Bridget Jones's Diary is to my mind a great success. For as little as I have in common with Bridget Jones (nothing, I tell you, not a bloody thing), laughing at her felt a lot like letting go of some of the tenser parts of myself.

Forget the critics who tell you that the devil-may-care Ms. Jones is the ne plus ultra anti-feminist. They just don't get it. Trust me on this. Bridget Jones would be a veritable impossibility absent secure feminist consciousness. And feminism, let us shout it from the rooftops, would be veritably impossible absent Bridget's - Fielding's - consciousness-raised comfort in securely laughing at ourselves.

CineScene, 2001

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