In her re-view of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Maggie McMuffin reveals her fervent anglophilia and Hugh Grant-philia.
Quick question: Would you rather have to put up with a child obsessed with werewolves or a child who becomes an unbearable anglophile?
Trick question! Because if you were my mother, you had to go through both.
Like many American girls, I went through a phase of lusting after older British men. The pasty hunks that Britain churned out during the 1990s were my sexual bread and butter for the last two and a half years of high school, placing me squarely in the company of middle aged women everywhere. Sometimes this led to great things (seeing An Awfully Big Adventure, a movie I would otherwise have missed) and sometimes it led to not so great things (that day I viewed The English Patient and Schindler’s List back to back). Mostly it just meant watching period films and literary adaptations in the hopes of seeing some dude in a wet shirt.
It also meant watching both Bridget Jones movies a lot.
I mean, come on, it had Hugh Grant and Colin Firth fighting each other. It had a London backdrop which, to a small town high schooler, seemed so beyond hip. And it featured a narrator who was awkward and less than perfect but still going after sex. Because Bridget Jones may not have always had a life worth aspiring to, but damn it she presented a future I felt I could achieve. And even when her life wasn’t perfect, it seemed much better than my life. My high school relationship drama was much more Wuthering Heights than Pride and Prejudice, so Bridget’s life seemed like a goddamn dream to me. I read the books. I watched the films. I affected a terrible accent. My best friend and I would carry journals around and write stuff all the time (her way more than me because I’m lazy). When I went off to college, the Bridget Jones books were two that I packed for my teeny dorm room and I opened to random pages to read passages when I felt overwhelmed. I would watch either film whenever it was on television, considering it a gift from the syndication gods. Maybe that’s why I’ve seen Edge of Reason more than the first film.
As I’ve grown up, my life has become awesome in its own way. Like really. My life is fucking grand. Still sometimes full of drama because I’m 24 but it’s different now. I don’t romanticize it like I did in high school where I thought being mature meant having problems. I just hate drama now and while I often have a hard time getting out of it, I still turn to writing to get through it. Something about putting my problems on paper (or computer screen) makes it easier for me to process and I owe that coping mechanism to Bridget Jones.
I left her behind a few years ago. The books are in my mom’s storage unit. The films have gone unwatched. Let’s see if Hugh Grant still does it for me.
This movie is supposed to be Bridget and Mark Darcy’s ‘happily ever after.’ Which is odd because they’ve only been dating 6 weeks, 4 days, and 7 hours. “Or 71 ecstatic shags.” Like, I know they’ve known each other their whole lives but that’s still a very brief time to be dating. Especially since the first movie told us Bridget has spent a good portion of their lives disliking Mark immensely. But hey, they’re heavy in the honeymoon stage. They’ve given things up for each other (or at least Mark thinks Bridget has given up smoking ‘which is practically the same thing’), Mark loves Bridget’s ‘wobbly bits,’ and they’re super adorable. But a relationship without drama is not a relationship worth watching for two hours so let’s get down to petty squabbles.
Okay, they aren’t entirely petty. These are real concerns. Bridget thinks that Mark looks down on her because she doesn’t fit in with his peers, a bunch of upper class lawyer types who think that charitable giving is detrimental to society and encourages people to want to be poor. When she criticizes them at a big function or brings up class issues or isn’t as smart about some things, he doesn’t stand up for her. Sure, he loves her ‘just the way she is,’ but he’s way more prone to proving that in private which honestly isn’t good enough.
Also, someone plants it in Bridget’s head that he’s cheating on her with a 22 year-old ‘with legs up to here.’ Rebecca is quite attractive and, due to being a coworker, constantly hangs out with Mark. Bridget gets a little jealous which turns into very jealous, and when she confronts Mark about the possibility, he doesn’t see where she’s coming from and it turns into this big thing. Mark is upset over the lack of trust and Bridget jumping to conclusions. Maybe he doesn’t tell her she’s wrong because he feels he shouldn’t have to.
(Note: He should. He’s been cheated on and Bridget was cheated on in the last film. Given the history of both these characters, I do think he should have dignified it with a response rather than getting huffy. But then I’ve also been in that situation with partners where a lack of trust plus a lot of evidence that I was right about built up into me needing to just get some reassurances. But this is a modern update of Mr. Darcy so, you know, repressed emotions and all that.)
The other big fight that happens occurs on their mini-break (Bridget Jones movies have taught me that mini-breaks are big deals romantically) where, while trying to come down off a ski mountain, Bridget realizes she hasn’t had her period in nearly two months. What follows is a hilarious scene where she tries obtaining a pregnancy test by miming sex and her stomach growing while speaking in fractured German. After that we get a three-minute argument between her and Mark. They’re both pretty happy about the prospect of a child until they start daydreaming about names and schools, and it turns into this class issue where Bridget makes fun of boarding school twits who are raised to have sticks up their asses (Mark is one of those) and Mark derides public schools for being too lenient and preaching expression over knowledge.
Mark brings up a very good point: “What would be mad would be having a child if his parents can’t have a single conversation without shouting at each other.”
The pregnancy test turns up negative and they both give halfhearted ‘oh how sad’ grumblings before sleeping on opposite sides of the bed for the night.
I realized around this point that I hadn’t seen this film since before I started really dating. I was a late bloomer and didn’t have my first boyfriend/partner/whatever until I was 21. And I recently got out of a relationship that was full of its own ‘ecstatic shags’ but also featured frequent arguments over, well, pretty much everything. So while in high school I thought Bridget and Mark seemed a bit bumpy but ultimately a pair to root for, now I’m thinking that they really should break up. They could be decent friends. They’re obviously going to see each other, having parents who are friends and often inviting them to holiday parties. They could even have sex with one another. But as a long-term relationship, it’s the sort of opposites attract scenario that lends itself to romantic comedies more than reality. Still, at least this movie is being pretty honest about fighting. And Zellweger and Firth have the right chemistry to go seamlessly from gooey and cute to bickering about things. Everything falls apart quickly and these scenes feel quite natural.
Meanwhile, back in London and Bridget’s workplace, Daniel Cleaver has reared his stupidly pretty head and is hitting on Bridget in the workplace. When her and Mark do break up (nearly right after saying I Love You for the first time) he’s ready to strike. She resists him, though, because while he is charming, he’s also a jerk.
By the way, the answer to ‘does Hugh Grant still do it for me’ is a resounding yes. I am embarrassed by how hot I find him in this. He’s slick, charismatic, transparent, and I just want to pull his perfect hair and fuck him. And you know what, there are way more problematic British hotties out there (looking at you, Fassbender) so I’m just gonna roll with this. Everyone be prepared to roll with me. Are we rolling? Good. Let’s get to Thailand.
Oh yeah, they go to Thailand. Daniel has a new show (because publishing is dead and everyone works on TV now) about travelling and Bridget gets assigned to be his partner to bring in male viewers. There’s no commentary on how it’s pretty rad that a 33-year-old woman who owns that she will ‘always be a little bit fat’ is the woman they decide will bring in male viewers but that’s what I’m here for. It’s awesome.
But Bridget’s friends Gaius Baltar, Moaning Myrtle, and (the third one but has that actress done much else?) say she can’t go alone because Daniel Cleaver is a sexy, sexy snake in the sexy grass and so Shazza (the third actress who I can’t attach to other pop culture properties) goes alone with her. They split up on the plane. Shazza goes and hangs with Jed, a young cute dude, and Bridget gets pulled into first by Daniel. He immediately lays on the smarm-charm and requests (false) dirty stories. Bridget is flattered and sort of into it but also against it because she knows better.
He spends the rest of the trip trying to bang her and almost succeeds, with his talk of being in ‘shag therapy’ and being a ‘changed man’ and reciting her poetry and junk. As they work on their travel show, Bridget covers food and temples and other stuff while Daniel goes to a massage parlor. Because if you go to Thailand you have to mention the sex industry. Which is also how Daniel fails to bed Bridget. Even after he overcomes her hesitancy to sleep with someone new because it really marks the end of her and Mark, a Thai sex worker comes to his hotel. She won’t leave because, well, Daniel called her and also called another woman the night before (and apparently tipped really well) so she knows she’s got the right room. He offers a ‘I’m game if you are’ to Bridget but Bridget is so not game and leaves.
(Spoiler alert: Daniel, ever consistent in his love of getting laid, still sleeps with the sex worker. It’s implied he does this even after learning she’s a trans woman. So just remember that if you’re transphobic or a shitty customer to sex workers, you are worse than one of the most dickish characters Hugh Grant has ever played.)
And now it’s time to go back home to London. Shazza’s young buck has given her a ‘fertility snake bowl’ that Bridget ends up throwing in her bag. Unbeknownst to our merry heroines, the snake bowl is filled with cocaine and Bridget is arrested at the airport. She’s thrown in Thai prison, told it may be only ten years if she’s lucky, and waits.
This is a brief sequence and I was thinking maybe it would be more racist than I remembered but it was pretty okay. Sure, the Thai people speak in heavily accented English and that’s a problem but the women in the prison are very lovely and Bridget teaches them the correct words to ‘Like a Virgin.’ She trades her bra for cigarettes. There’s a lot of solidarity. Sure, the story is still based around our white lead, but primarily Bridget is upset about being in jail period, not being in Thai jail specifically. And it’s not some hellish experience that has her wasting away; it’s just a generally shitty one as I’m sure being thrown in prison for accidental drug muling would be. And when she leaves, thanks to some assistance from Mark Darcy (who claims to just be a messenger here but he totally isn’t, don’t act like that’s the case), she brings everyone gifts. It is a touch white-centric and there’s a scene where the women in prison tell stories of abusive boyfriends, making Bridget have an epiphany that Mark’s an okay dude** (which smacks of ‘thank you kindly POC for making me appreciate my life’), but ultimately this whole section of the film could have been way, way worse.
(**However, we should note that okay dude =/= okay boyfriend. And if your standard for good boyfriend is ‘he didn’t hit me or get me addicted to heroin,’ then you need to learn to love yourself more.)
Bridget heads home. On her way, we get one of the best scenes in the film as Mark confronts Daniel in an art gallery about abandoning Bridget at the airport. He challenges Daniel to a duel and they end up fighting like men who do not know how to fight. It’s awkward and they end up in a fountain. Of all the redone/callback jokes to the first film, this is the most important.
Bridget gets home, learns about Mark getting her out, rushes to his home, and finds Rebecca. We learn Rebecca is a lesbian and is actually quite taken with Bridget. She kisses her and Bridget is like nope, totally straight. One time I watched this movie at my grandma’s house and she came home right before this scene. During the kiss she declared ‘Those two women must be lesbians.’ And she said the word really dramatically and that’s always stuck with me. Maybe because my grandma didn’t tend to acknowledge gay people? Like ever? I tried explaining that Bridget isn’t, just Rebecca, but hey lesbians aren’t…oh why am I bothering, grandma doesn’t care. Now I’m wondering if my mom ever told my grandma that I’m not straight and, if she did, if my grandma’s reaction was similar.
Back to the film. Bridget gets in a cab, takes a ‘quick’ detour to find the right outfit, rushes to Mark’s work, declares her love for him, he proposes and we….still don’t see them get married. The movie actually ends with them walking through a cemetery after Bridget’s parents renew their vows and Bridget narrates that ‘happiness is possible. Even when you are 33 and have a bottom the size of two bowling balls.’
So does this movie hold up?
Some of the phone stuff is dated. I realized that no one is ever really going to have to deal with calling their boyfriend to tell him his bottom is adorable and then find out they’re on speaker to some ambassadors. We have texting now. Texting will solve these problems.
And honestly, even though I didn’t get the ‘need to be married’ thing as a teenager, I really don’t get it now. Like, seriously, Bridget and Mark shouldn’t get married. They definitely shouldn’t have a kid unless they both sit down and do some heavy compromising. It’s clear that they love each other very much, but love isn’t enough to save a relationship. And I wish the movie actually went there because it’s not entirely unrealistic about everything else.
And as a romantic comedy lead? Bridget’s pretty great. I still find her absolutely relatable. She’s not just quirky; she’s self-assured and confident but we also get to see her doubting herself in private. And while she does want to get married and be in a relationship, she wants to do it on her terms. She calls Mark out on his shit and how he treats her. She refuses to give Daniel Cleaver another go and consistently fights her attraction to him despite the fact that, once they start flirting, she’s really comfortable around him. (And depending on how you take one scene, he’s better in bed than Mark.) They laugh over his continued love of her granny panties and the tease each other in a way that is unlike her having to stand up against his workplace harassment. But she tells him she doesn’t just want to shag anymore. Sure, he’d be great for that, but it and he are not what she wants and she’s not going to fuck some guy who doesn’t appreciate her as more than a sexual partner.
Bridget’s also always giving herself pep talks, which I like. She tells herself she’s doing amazing journalism, even though they’re fluff pieces. Bridget, despite her body image issues and feeling like a loser in love, believes in herself in a way that a lot of the people around her don’t, and even when her love life fails, she doesn’t stop believing in herself entirely. That’s pretty great.
— There are magic mushrooms in Thailand, courtesy of Shazza and her dude. The scene where Bridget frolics in the ocean, patting her face and saying ‘pretty, pretty’ is my favorite thing Renee Zellweger has ever done.
— Colin Firth playing Mr. Darcy three times is always going to be his legacy. And I remember on the DVD there’s a bonus feature where Zellweger interviews him as Bridget Jones and won’t let up about the pond-diving scene. Apparently it was a spur of the moment thing and is mostly improvised and it was hilarious. It’s also based on a scene in the book that didn’t make it into the film because, well, you can’t have Colin Firth play a character and himself. I guess.
— I’ve rolled with the ‘still finding Hugh Grant attractive thing’ through this whole review, but I would really like it to stop now. I’m both too old and too young for this.