My Defense of Bridgett Jones

 

Generally, I consider myself a traditionalist in many ways, especially in relation to literature. I tend to stay fairly canonical a lot of the time, and my interests are primarily in the 19th century, so you know, that type of traditional. For example, although I do plan on reading and reviewing books like, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for this blog, I don’t expect to like them.

 

I love Jane Austen, and, as you already know, I love Pride and Prejudice and its characters.  I feel like putting random un-dead elements into a story that has wooed readers successfully for around 200 years is just unnecessary and gratuitous.

However, in contrast with my traditionalist beliefs, I have developed what I now feel free to term an  undying love for the movie-adaptation-of-a-modern-book-adaptation- of-Pride and Prejudice,  Bridgett Jones Diary.

I have been sick this week, and watched that movie three times. Every single time, I found myself laughing with Bridgett during her missteps and triumphs, and oohing and aweing  when Mark Darcy (Colin Firth of course) comes over to make dinner with her.

I can see how some parts of the movie are problematic, but what isn’t problematic for those of us who analyze? I honestly and unabashedly love this movie, despite those problematic elements. I could probably watch it every day. It never gets old. Trust me, I definitely expected to stop enjoying it after the first 50 or so times I saw it, but it just keeps staying awesome.

I don’t know why I have been embarrassed to proclaim my love of this movie around my academic friends. Maybe it seems silly, or maybe I keep hearing that Wambats song with the lyrics “this is no, Bridgett Jones” when I think of it, or feel like maybe I’m supporting capitalism or heteronormativity when I watch it and root for Bridgett to get her dream man. I’d like to respond to this anxiety in two ways.

1). The critique I hear from a lot of people is that Bridgett is just an annoying character who perpetuates the stereotype of the woman who wants to marry. I may be totally prejudiced, but I don’t feel like those people really get it, kind of like I how people who say that Austen’s books are basically marriage plots and that’s it just don’t really get it.

I would argue that Bridgett is actually showing how many modern women actually feel, since we are still pressured to marry, as I have discussed before in previous posts.  Everybody wants love and companionship, so that’s not a new concept to work with, and it does seem like the Bridgett Jones filmmakers empathize with the stigma of the “single woman” in this movie. At one point, for example, Bridgett gets asked at a dinner party why there are so many unmarried women in their 30’s these days, and Bridgett, taken aback, responds with an uneasy joke first, then a jab at the high divorce rate in Great Britain. And of course, I love that Darcy stands up for her and backs up her critique of a smug faith in marriage.

2). Now, you may wonder how this representation of Pride and Prejudice is OK with my Pride and Prejudice purist beliefs. To me, Bridgett does not represent Elizabeth in a lot of ways, but I think her character is a clever play on the class difference between Elizabeth and Darcy.

Bridgett is obviously a bit “chav” as some English people would say. In other words, her family, although middle class, behaves without tact. What I find interesting about Bridgett is that she also behaves this way much of the time. What I really love about the movie is that dialogue about class in England, which although it looks very different currently from what it did back in the regency times, is still a topic of interest.

Her friendships also show her habits, her behavior, and her priorities to be totally different in many ways than Mark Darcy, something I think highlights the real class disparity between Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. In the film, Mark Darcy is a well-educated and kind of elitist lawyer.  Bridgett and her friends behave “irresponsibly,”  but believably, and definitely with a different set of priorities than Mark Darcy’s crowd.

Beyond the fun that occurs with this contrast, I also love Bridgett herself. I love how she just can’t help saying what’s on her mind, even though it’s probably embarrassing. Although Elizabeth had a quick tongue, it was more one of quick wit and biting sarcasm than of verbal incontinence and social awkwardness. However, they are both in earnest when they speak, something that I admire.

When Bridgett Jones speaks, she means what she is saying. She really feels strongly about it at the time, even if her opinion might change or be open to influence later. Although I love Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice possibly more than any other protagonista, I think that Bridgett is a very relatable spin off, and she is probably my favorite “leading lady” from a modern movie.

I think that  I love the character Bridgett Jones, not in spite of her differences from Elizabeth Bennet, but because of them.

I’m fine with them because Bridgett Jones is a fully actualized character of her own, and I am happy to see her figure things out through what seems to be a pretty painful process (even though it gives the viewer a sense of comic relief).

Like Elizabeth she has character development, and although she is at times silly, as is her movie genre (romantic comedy) in general, sometimes that is exactly what I’m looking for in life.

In other words, I may not quite be ready for Zombies in Pride and Prejudice, but I am totally accepting of this dash of Pride and Prejudice, or nod to it, in a modern interpretation.

Have to go now- I have a movie to watch.

Miss E

The Help- the movie vs. the book

I enjoyed the book The Help. While I did have initial issues with the concept of black maids in the 60’s risking everything to work on a white writer’s novel, I liked the vivid personalities of characters in the novel, (the bad ones and the good ones), and I enjoyed the writing on a sentence level.

All movies are different than the book- different media, different art, different relationship. I didn’t hate it- for me to say that about a movie that takes a little bit more of what Minny would call the heart palpitations. Despite the wonderful actors and the realistic costume design, I had some major problems with it.

I can narrow it down to 3 elements from the movie that really drove me nuts.

1). Lack of suspense and intensity. The book is infused with a sense of danger throughout. The film downplayed that danger and the tangible tension present in every chapter of the book. One of the book’s primary strengths for me is that it portrayed so many emotions so believably—the deep sadness of Skeeter in slowly losing everyone important to her and seeing her mother dying from cancer, the absolute terror of living in Jackson Mississippi during this time, the bloody horror when Minny finds a miscarriage and a collapsed employer in the bathroom, the threat of sexual violence against female characters and rampant misogyny, and the Help’s ever-present fear of Miss Hilly, white people, and of racial and sexual violence on a daily basis, etc. It always felt emotionally intense.

2).  In the book, no interaction was comfortable- the awkwardness between the society women, between blacks and whites, between Skeeter and her mother. The movie showed some of the awkwardness, but I was craving more, as weird as that sounds. Everything in the movie seemed  a little too easy.

3). So, speaking of awkwardness, the third thing about the movie that bothered me most was a specific scene—Minny’s interaction with her employers at the end.

In the novel, the last scene we have with Minny and her employers comes after Skeeter and Aibileen’s book is circulating through Jackson. Minny goes to work, anticipating that she will be fired, but her employers tell her she can have a job for the rest of her life. Minny and the Footes relationship could only be described as awkward and bizarre. Later, the conflict that has been building in the novel between Minny and her abusive husband Leroy escalates. Leroy locks her in the bathroom of their house and threatens to burn it down with her inside. She escapes, runs to the gas station barefoot, and calls Aibileen to tell her she’s going to live with her sister and she’s leaving Leroy for good.

In the movie, Minny walks in (after thinking she’s being attacked by her employer Mr. Foote) to a magnificent feast prepared solely by Miss Celia Foote. Then the narrator says something to the effect of “that meal gave Minny the courage she needed. She left Leroy that night.” That’s when I almost screamed in the theater. What!?

I’m sure you can see the problem with this discrepancy. The white family shows kindness to Minny, one of the most skeptical characters in the whole novel, and all of a sudden she decides to “turn her life around.” Although part of the comic relief in the movie comes from Celia’s confusing lack of racial and class boundaries, and well, boundaries in general, that feast just seems unbelievable. The narrative addition is just insulting to Minny’s character. It both takes from Minny and gives way too much to the Footes.

In the novel, Minny was very brave. She did what she had to do, but she stood up for herself more than most. She was not afraid to speak her mind, except in her abusive relationship.

Minny left Leroy to save herself, because the abuse had finally reached the point of threatening her life. That push to escape came from the realization that he could, and would kill her eventually, NOT a dinner from her white employers!

Yours with the heart palpitations,

Miss E