My experience with the Bridget Jones Extended Universe (the BJEU) likely falls within the upper percentile of my age and gender bracket. Living in a house with just one television meant that if mom or dad wanted to watch a certain movie or show, that is what would be on. After school with Oprah, Thursday nights with Grey’s Anatomy and Gilmore Girls; I am a student of the W Network.
This puts me in a unique position; I’m both well versed in my knowledge of the tropes that exist in this form of entertainment, while at the same time completely removed from their impact. For years, Renee Zellweger’s choice between a Colin Firth and a Hugh Grant was the least of my concerns while watching Diary and The Edge of Reason; rather, the question was what message is the BJEU trying to convey exactly?
What I find so puzzling about the films is that they seem to simultaneously play as a commentary on the RomCom genre, but nevertheless fall into the same trappings. Is the BJEU a sublime subtle parody in the calibre of Robocop, or rather just a way to package a rather hackneyed and sexist genre to more liberal minded women?
My viewings of the first two films had thus far left me without a satisfying answer. With The Edge of Reason ending with a marriage proposal, the series seemed to have come to an end, along with my hopes of solving its riddle. However, as with Robocop, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, and so many other film series, Hollywood’s ability to squeeze blood from a stone should have never surprised me. Bridget would have her third movie, and perhaps my answer.
My initial guess for a theoretical title of a third BJEU movie had always been ‘Bridget Jones: Older, Fatter, Singler’, but in retrospect that was probably too on the nose. Nonetheless, in terms of story, the screenplay of Bridget Jones’ Baby itself follows the same structure as Diary (and to a lesser extent, The Edge of Reason). It goes as follows:
1. Bridget is alone, but doesn’t want to be alone.
2. Bridget falls into the arms of two men: one new and exciting, the other boring but reliable.
3. Bridget fumbles with the difficulty of having two attractive men give her attention, but eventually settles in.
4. Bridget seems to prefer the new and exciting man, but eventually has revelations.
5. Bridget ends up with reliable man in the finale. Roll credits.
The BJEU is still heavily grounded in its RomCom roots, but as evidenced by the title, the series has expanded beyond its analysis of femininity through the lens of love. Baby branches out into the realms of motherhood and aging as Bridget faces an unexpected pregnancy and a fifty-fifty guess at the father, Mark Darcy or Jack Qwant. Let’s look into these topics further.
Firstly, on the topic of love, in spite of the predictability in structure of the BJEU films, the BJEU has always presented a more ethereal and free-will based understanding of love rather than a more fatalistic understanding. In Baby and The Edge of Reason this conflict plays out between the choice of Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy.
Daniel represents the more virile and chemical drive for love, the drive for the perpetuation of humankind; this can be seen with Daniel’s propensity for younger women. With Daniel, Bridget finds a revitalization of her own youth, her sexuality; she tries to dress better and lose weight in order to gain Daniel attention.
In Baby, Daniel’s role is replaced by the character Jack Qwant. Like Daniel, Jack represents Bridget’s more animalistic drive for love. After Bridget is dared by a co-worker to sleep with the first man that she meets at a music festival, Bridget does exactly that with Jack, later bragging with friends through euphemism about his ‘puppet’ size. The name Qwant itself is likely the writers’ play on the ‘quantify’, as Jack is the creator of a ‘love algorithm’ that predicts with mathematical certainty the likelihood of a match between romantic partners. For Jack, love is a matter of scientific analysis. Tellingly, in a scene that only a serial killer could describe as romantic, Jack shows up at Bridget’s house and acts out the moment by moment relationship that the two skipped by having a baby together. Jack believed the relationship was an inevitability.
However, the BJEU shuns this understanding of love, and finds the search for it as less a drive for animalistic needs (or made up mathematical plot devices) and more of a choice made between two people, as represented by Mark. Mark and Bridget are diametrically opposed as people, Type A and B personalities. A distraught Mark finds, while using Jack’s love algorithm, that Jack and Bridget are nearly ten times as compatible as her and Mark. In spite of these differences Mark and Bridget time and time again just want to make it work. IT is the ultimate finale of the series that Bridget ultimately chooses a relationship that is less logical or passionate; it is the choice of Bridget to love the dysfunction.
Certainly there is much to write about in regards to the BJEU’s theories on love and metaphysics, so you would believe that Baby would put as much thought into its analysis of motherhood or aging. Unfortunately, you would be mistaken.
In spite of having no plans for a child, only being able to guess at the father, a distinct lack of maturity or personal responsibility, and having to face down the dangers to both the mother and child associated with pregnancies over the age of forty, Bridget makes the decision to continue with the pregnancy with utter ease.
Rather, the main conflict regarding Bridget’s baby is more a matter concerned with fatherhood. It is Jack and Mark who must learn to grow comfortable in sharing the responsibility of a child that might not be theirs ,and it is Mark and Jack who have to learn to put their pride aside for the good of the child and Bridget. For the main character of a story, Bridget seems to go through very few revelations or moments of character growth.
What Baby ends up being is rather a propaganda piece affirming to middle-aged women that they, in fact, are the best generation of women. Bridget’s interactions with women in different generations often puts her on the ‘right’ side of history, as seen with her mother and her younger boss. On the one hand, Bridget’s mom fumbles at the new, more liberal ideals of feminism, scoffing that women already had ‘enough rights’. Bridget’s mother fumbles with the idea of a pregnancy with an unknown father, but eventually comes to accept her daughter.
On the other end of the spectrum, Bridget’s millennial boss is presented as both cold and overly-professional, but absurdly obsessed with seemingly less important ‘news’ (a number of time referencing cats that look like Hitler). After being fired from her position at the agency, Bridget gives a rousing speech espousing her own virtues of professionalism and authenticity in contrast to the millennial silliness. Perhaps this speech would be more impactful on the audience had Bridget not spent several previous scenes using her position for personal gain, indirectly being responsible for having nude streakers air on live television, feeding inappropriate interview questions to anchors, and confusing a cab driver with an army general. These are presented less as character flaws, and more as quirky traits; confirmed by the boss’ cracked smile upon the news of Bridget going into labour.
Ultimately, in spite of the formula remaining the same for a decade, Baby regresses the series into the realm of RomCom drivel. Bridget is no longer the admittedly flawed, but driving character who learns about herself through her love life and career, and instead has become more of a caricature of that person, losing her humanity. In becoming a symbol for empowerment RomComs, the BJEU created a character that it was too afraid to critique. Perhaps, in a decade, the series will redeem itself with Bridget Jones’ Hot Flashes.