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Bridget Jones’s Baby and the Sceptical Politics of the Modern-Day Rom Com

By Tasha Baldassarre


Bridget Jones isn’t my kind of film by a long shot. That conventionally British second-hand embarrassment is almost unbearable in feature-length doses, and I count myself among the hordes who don’t on some fundamental level understand the appeal of the rom-com. A couple of summers ago, a few of my friends (once they’d recovered from the shock of "you’ve never seen Bridget Jones, ever?", which, in the UK, is apparently comparable to treason) made me sit down and watch the first two installments of this unfortunate franchise, and while I rolled my eyes to injury and employed all the sarcasm I’ve been gifted with over the course of that afternoon, I couldn’t help viewing the eponymous character as an alien. So when my friend invited me to go see it in cinemas a few weeks ago, my reaction was preemptive panic – but that you’re reading this is proof that you can make an educational experience out of anything.  

Bridget Jones as a concept and trope has been dismantled and lambasted since the character first appeared, but mainstream critics’ reviews of the Baby installment are mellow, sugar-coated with pseudo-feminist language and mild nostalgia, not so much alluding to her as an outdated icon birthed for the generation of women who first read and watched Bridget Jones' Diary (released in 1995 and 2001 respectively) as passing her off as some universally experienceable rendering of womanhood. But anyone who's seen even a few scenes of her infantilized antics would have no trouble coming up with a comprehensive Your Fave Is Problematic: Bridget Jones Edition.

A disclaimer: I’m gonna set aside issues of heteronormativity, racial and other minority representations and patriarchy-abiding morals imbued in the film - there are a lot of valid critiques and concerns of the leading lady’s questionably feminist streak in the more niche corners of the film critic sphere, for those interested. Instead, let’s address how Bridget Jones doesn’t specifically evoke women of our generation: she wasn’t conceived for us, and we can’t relate to most of her concerns and shenanigans; she’s shrilly, clumsily feminine, chauvinistic in her priorities, and not endowed with the self-preserving cynicism that defines us today. But my dubiety about Bridget Jones just goes to show that social justice trends on the internet have made us hypercritical in a way that maybe isn’t effective reflexively; the idea of what a feminist is is changing, and twenty years ago even the neurotically desperate Bridget Jones might even have been a revolutionary cinematic depiction of the everywoman of her time. At the end of the day, the franchise is just a symptom of the frustratingly underwhelming pace of progess where respectable woman-centered films in the cinematic sphere are concerned.

Everything that’s been nit-picked at here was expected going in, though, but it does get you thinking about what’s happened to the rom-com genre over the last few decades. Its golden era, according to most millennial women’s favourites, was clearly the 80s, 90s and early 00s, but Rotten Tomatoes actually ranks the best romantic comedies of all time as It Happened One Night (1934), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Roman Holiday (1953) and Annie Hall (1977). And there’s also its endangered status - besides BJD, I blank on remembering the last time I saw a romantic comedy in a movie theatre, and whatever you find on Netflix these days is usually independently produced, doesn’t get wide distribution, and is basically multi-genre anyway.

There was a wave of reportage last year about 2015 being the ‘Year of the Woman in Film’, supposedly, and maybe because of this spotlight on gender representations in the filmmaking industry, romantic comedies are even more of a dying breed. They’ve been replaced by more nuanced romantic love in period dramas, and reduced to subplots of the action/adventure genre. I don’t know what to make of this: either there’s been a major loss of interest by filmmakers and audiences of our generation altogether, or demand has shifted towards a more politically correct brand of romantic comedy, and, at a time when feminism and social justice trends make us hypercritical of most media, there just aren’t enough filmmakers in positions of access and influence who are up to the task.

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