Bridget Jones’s Diary, which premiered in the U.S. 15 years ago today, is a movie that gets a lot of mileage out of the disconnect Bridget herself embodies: the divide between the is and the does. Bridget is a great character, kooky and caring and trying her best. The movie relies on all that for its own charm; indeed, without it, this would be a far different—far sadder—film.
But Bridget Jones’s Diary is of course an extremely upbeat rom-com; and that’s not just because of what Bridget does in the movie, but because of who she is—which we’re privy to because of what she writes. The film is aptly named: It’s the journal, more than anything else, that is the star here. And, more importantly, it’s the evidence of Bridget’s interior life, with all its warmth and wit, that gives her character her exterior charisma. In that sense, Bridget Jones’s Diary, in its way, predicted many of the things that the Internet, which was still very young at the time of the movie’s release, would help to bring about later on—first among them the opportunities for empathy that are afforded when the inner self, via the workings of status updates and chats and snaps and the like, gets converted into media.
The movie’s prescience was a matter of both serendipity and design. Helen Fielding, who wrote the several Bridget Jones novels and co-wrote the movies that have been based on them—there’s a new one coming out later this year—has credited Bridget’s success as a character to the fact that, fundamentally, she explores “the gap between how we feel we are expected to be and how we actually are.” It is the diary—full of swearing and exclamatory excess, its “I” often only implied—that most easily allows that division to be exposed.
Which means that there is also a division between the people in Bridget’s world and the people who, through the screen, watch them. To those at Pemberley Press, Bridget is that PR girl who wears transparent tops and really, really short skirts, that girl who got sloppy-drunk at the holiday party. To her family members, Bridget is her parents’ unmarried daughter. Even to us, her audience—objectively, which is also to say superficially—she’s accident-prone and “verbally incontinent” and unable to make a soup that doesn’t come out robin’s-egg blue.
But, significantly, none of that is the point here. Because Bridget is so much more than any of that. Via her diary, her audiences are uniquely able to see Bridget for what she really is: a full, flawed, complicated person. That balance—the fact that, on the other end of the butt-shots and the granny panties and the ignorance of F.R. Leavis, is a warm and wonderful and deserving human—is what saves Bridget Jones as a character. It is also what saves her movie, which is otherwise full of pitfalls.
For one thing: Scene by scene and in its overall premise, it must be said, Bridget Jones’s Diary fails the Bechdel test. The majority of Bridget’s energies in life seem to be concentrated on guy-getting. She seems to see her job as, basically, a husband-market (hence the sleeping-with-the-boss thing). Same with a simple dinner party. And yet—again, via the collision of action and the emotions that underscore it, via the union of the is and the does—we are led to understand why, exactly, Bridget is so myopically focused on man-getting. It’s because everyone else is myopically focused on that, on her behalf!