Bridget Jones's Diary narrative and conventions
Bridget Jones’s Diary (Sharon Maguire, 2001) was originally a novel by Helen Fielding and became an extremely successful film when it was released as a romantic comedy. The film made around i??41 million in the UK alone. The storyline is funny, romantic and also safe, in that the audience knows that there will be a happy ending. From pre-release advertising and publicity, audiences could anticipate that the film would fit their expectations of the romantic comedy genre. Knowledge of the genre helps people know what to expect from a film and ensures that they will enjoy a film which they connect with examples of the genre njoyed in the past.
In all films the story – the narrative – is important and so the way the story is told must be effective in its manipulation and presentation of characters and events. The audience needs to be able to understand the story. The narrative offers meanings connected to character actions and motivations. I have chosen to analyse the last 15 minutes of the film, where the two main characters come together and resolve their differences. Bridget Jones’s Diary was released with a target audience of women in mind. A woman is the protagonist and female audiences can relate to her experiences.
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Certain actors have strong links with the romantic comedy genre: Hugh Grant has a lead role and audiences would associate him with romantic comedy from his parts in Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill. (This is an important factor for the producer, especially in light of the success of these previous romantic comedies. ) Hugh Grant’s role in this film is slightly different in that he plays the ‘cad’. However, the genre association is still beneficial for the film’s producers, as they can tap into his existing romantic comedy fan base.
Reni??e Zellweger was relatively unknown in a romantic comedy context (apart from Jerry Maguire), but her inclusion in the cast added an intrigue factor. Could this up-and-coming American actress play the now iconic English Bridget? Since Bridget Jones’s Diary had been a successful newspaper column, which became a best-selling novel, even more security was added to the film’s potential success at the box office. Romantic comedy has a set of conventions to which most of the examples of this genre conform. Bridget Jones’s Diary is the story of a single woman living in London.
Both the protagonists, Bridget and Mark, lack a partner at the start of the narrative. This soon changes when Mark is with Nicola and Bridget is with Daniel, both the wrong partners and a hindrance to their union. This creates immense dramatic irony. The two protagonists are not aware of their attraction to one another, but the audience, through its knowledge of romantic comedy conventions, can see that Bridget and Mark will end the story together – but how? When they first meet, the two characters do not get on.
Mark is rude and ees Bridget as beneath him. Bridget feels that Mark is dull and does not like his condescending attitude. This hostility remains until the end of the narrative. The audience knows that the couple will eventually be together, but tension and interest are sustained as the pair’s hurdles are overcome. The two characters are very different; Mark is a highly paid barrister and Bridget has a relatively unprestigious job in a large publishing house. This social and economic divide constructs one of the hurdles for the couple and intrigues the audience as to how the divide will be overcome.
Bridget changes as she tries to make herself more attractive to the opposite sex. Her attempts initially ‘net’ Daniel, but he proves himself unworthy of her affection. The audience follows Bridget’s shifts from hope to depression and back again, to an ending with Mark and hope for the future. The couple overcome their differences, learn something about themselves along the way and provide a textbook ‘romcom’ ending. Mark has aborted his move to America and has come back for Bridget. The series of trials which the protagonists within romantic comedies must undergo is ended successfully when he returns.
Perhaps the most prominent of all romcom conventions is that the couple unite in the end, providing the viewer with met expectations of the genre and a sense of satisfaction and safety. The audience is constantly aware of Bridget’s feelings throughout the film through her diary, which is read as voice-over by Bridget. This allows Bridget’s character to discuss the conventions of the romantic comedy genre in an almost self-conscious way. The audience hears how she is lonely, vulnerable, unaware of her attraction to Mark, let down by Daniel and eventually happy.
This effective se of restricted narration lets us know how Bridget is feeling, which allows us to empathise with the character. In the final sequence, conventions are used creatively to generate tension for the viewer. Bridget is at Mark’s parents’ ruby wedding celebration, and a remark is made about Mark and Nicola. She is overcome by her feelings and makes a fool of herself, trying to hide her outburst. She leaves and the audience is in suspense, waiting for Mark’s response. The tension seems to be released when Mark comes back from America for Bridget. However, resolution is postponed by the drama of
Mark reading Bridget’s diary and her fears that it has offended him. Time is compressed in the film and the viewer is presented with a whole year of Bridget’s life, but the narrative highlights the events relevant to the romantic comedy storyline. This use of emotional issues and romantic confusions is typical of the romantic comedy genre. The narrative propels us towards the resolving final sequence in which misunderstandings are explained and confusions are clarified. The narrative structure of Bridget Jones’s Diary is almost circular. The chronology takes us from one winter to the next and allows for a condensed assage of time in which events directly relevant to Bridget can unfold. We see her engage with friends, meetings which serve to contribute to the discussions concerning relationships and allow her opportunity to explain her shifting romantic situations. Bridget exists in a state of equilibrium at the beginning of the film, not one that is characterised by safety.
Her recognisable world is shattered by the untrustworthy Daniel, who represents a disruptive element, but is reordered by the reliable and caring Mark. A cause-and-effect model can be used to discuss how narrative works in this ilm. Bridget and Mark’s initial conversation at the beginning of the film acts to separate the characters through a series of misunderstandings. This is necessary within the romantic comedy genre, because it provides the first of the hurdles which must be overcome. We see the consequences of each of Bridget’s interactions with other characters and use our knowledge of romantic comedy conventions to predict that, although her life may be unfulfilled for a large portion of the narrative, happy resolution will come. Bridget Jones’s Diary is, therefore, typical of the romantic comedy genre.
It uses the conventions an audience expects from this genre to create narrative meaning and engage the audience in the creation of the protagonists’ relationship. Narrative conventions are used to reinforce our recognition of genre and edit Bridget’s life experiences so that we are presented with events that we see as relevant to the genre. As a reworking of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones’s Diary is a modern-day comedy of manners. Elizabeth and Darcy have become Bridget and Mark, but modern audiences have the same desire: that the couple come together in the end.