There’s nothing quite like catching up with an old friend. It gives us an opportunity to take stock, while reveling in the company of someone who knows us, warts and all, and still cheers for us anyway.
In many ways, that’s what “Bridget Jones’ Baby” is: an opportunity to see how our old friend Bridge is doing 15 years after we first met. What struck me in watching the latest installment in Bridget’s saga was not only how funny a film it is — and it is — but how much has changed for both of us in the intervening years.
Meeting Bridget Jones
It’s impossible for me to forget Bridget. I first met her at a second-run movie theater in the fall of 2001. A recent college graduate, I was still learning how to navigate the work world and adult life generally. Some months earlier, I’d experienced a bad break-up, forcing me to question what I believed about love and compatibility.
It was also a month after 9/11, which had shattered my sense of security on a larger level. Lest I forget the new reality, my apartment’s management regularly reminded us we had FBI sharpshooters on our roof. Yes, on the roof of the building I’d chosen in part because my father had advised months earlier that there could be no place safer to live than by the Pentagon. Little did we know.
In short, my understanding of who I was and where I was going, and my general sense of security, were all in flux. Then Bridget (brought lovably to life by Renee Zellweger) walked onto my movie screen, and I suddenly felt understood. Here was a flawed woman who was doing her best in love and life, and she was completely charming. I laughed along with Bridget — as opposed to at her, as we were asked to do in the awful second film — because I was Bridget.
On the surface, of course, I wasn’t. I dressed more modestly for work (no see-through tops!), wasn’t involved with my boss, and didn’t constantly put my foot in my mouth, especially while speaking publicly. Granted, I was a glorified secretary at the time, but there was no question I had an inner Bridget, the part of me that felt like a perpetual hot mess.
That part of me wanted to shout “Amen!” when Bridget wisely remarked, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.” Wasn’t that the truth? My career was going well, but my love life was underwhelming.
From Singleton to Smug Married
I still aspired to find love. However, after having been burned, I was no longer certain what that would look like. Here too, Bridget helped by introducing me to Mark Darcy, an updated version of Elizabeth Bennet’s Mr. Darcy. Mark was appealing in many ways. Unlike most of my gal pals, however, I knew I didn’t want an unadulterated Darcy. His emotional aloofness repelled me.
Still, I loved when he stepped away from an excruciating dinner party filled with smug marrieds to tell Bridget, “In fact, perhaps despite appearances, I like you, very much. Just as you are.” That, I realized, was what I was looking for: A man who would see me as I was and love me for it. Thankfully, I met that man less than two years later. This week he even humored me, and agreed to see this latest Bridget movie.
This time around felt different for various reasons, not least because Bridget and I have been leading divergent lives. We watch Bridget celebrate her 43rd birthday alone, because her best friends are now hamstrung by things like child-care conflicts. To party properly, Bridget agrees to a weekend away with a younger, single colleague, who takes her to a music festival. I used to love live concerts! Yet today, any live music I experience typically includes classics like “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
Bridget might say I’ve evolved from singleton to smug married, while she has kept the flame of singledom alive. In classic Bridget fashion, though, you get the distinct sense that she would have settled down had things gone differently with the workaholic Darcy.
Critics’ Hits and Misses
This is where Slate’s critic showed she didn’t really get Bridget, or the many women who have identified with her:
If you had a real-life friend who’d lived Bridget’s story arc—a decade-and-a-half-long saga of ping-ponging between two distant and often unavailable men, ending in an unplanned pregnancy by one of those two exes or possibly a random guy she met at a concert—would you be rooting for her to end up with Mr. Right, or gently suggesting she might try giving life with Ms. Self a shot?
First, to answer the aforementioned question: No. If I had a friend who was unmarried and pregnant, with a father who wanted to be involved, I would not encourage her to shoo him away. Countless studies demonstrate fathers’ important contributions to their children’s lives. I can also say from personal experience that it’s very helpful to have a partner in parenting, because it’s not always easy.
Second, the suggestion that Bridget should champion singledom simply doesn’t suit her character. Bridget is an older and wiser version of her younger self. She still yearns for love and companionship, embodying a natural human need, which makes sense. She’s meant to be a relatable everywoman, not a walking ideological agenda, which I presume is also why the movie sidestepped abortion and played Bridget’s birth control failure only for laughs.
In New York magazine, Anna Silman observed (in a review worth reading), “Unlike the lovelorn, jilted women who tend to populate rom-coms, Bridget is the one in control here: She is the one fending off her suitors for the bulk of the film.” Bridget being the amusing center is precisely the point. She is a superior rom-com heroine in a genre that has cratered.
This, along with Silman’s point about the relative rarity of casting three equally middle-aged leads reminded me of Lifetime. The cable TV network regularly casts actresses who aren’t classic beauties opposite Hollywood hunks. Much like Woody Allen’s habit of casting himself opposite actresses too beautiful to notice him in real life, there’s an element of wish fulfillment for female viewers, who identify with the female lead. It could well be that a real-life Bridget wouldn’t be pursued by two such attractive suitors, but women are entitled to some fantasy in our entertainment too.
Finally, if this movie were truly realistic, it might have been much more anxiety-provoking and much less comical. Bridget’s easy conception screams teenager, rather than reflecting the struggles that many women over 35 have with becoming pregnant. Further, instead of a few jokes about Bridget being a geriatric mother, her OB would have prepared her for the possibility of abnormal genetic test results; those odds rise steadily with maternal age. Yet here we never doubt that Bridget will deliver a healthy baby.
Bridget also carries her baby with surprising ease. Given that Zellweger is a small woman, a scene showing a very pregnant Bridget walking without a waddle didn’t ring true. But in the end, who cares? I didn’t go to the movies searching for a documentary about pregnancy and motherhood. I went because I wanted to catch up with an old friend, have a few laughs, and cheer her on in her search for lasting love. And that I did.