Bridget Jones is a tramp (May 12, 2001)

Bridget Jones is the newest star in Hollywood's galaxy of lovable ditzy dames.

Some reviewers dwell on actor Renee Zellweger's spunk in gaining 20 pounds for the role and gamely jiggling it for her frequent close-ups, others on her facility with Britspeak, or her impeccable comedic timing, but all are in accord that she is adorable. That Bridget is also a chain-smoker, a binge eater, and a heavy boozer -- not to mention a gal who finds being sodomized in a new relationship a rich source of mirth for post-coital banter -- hasn't seemed to raise the rather obvious question: What could hero Mark Darcy, so handsome, noble, intelligent, sensitive and altogether perfect in every conceivable way, possibly see in this loser that would make him want to marry her?

Much has been made of the loose association between Bridget Jones's Diary and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Coy references to the Austen novel abound in the film: Mark Darcy's name, of course, reinforced by actor Colin Firth being cast in both the modern role and that of Mr. Darcy in the made-for-TV version of Pride and Prejudice; in the Pemberley Press, referring to the original Darcys' palatial estate; in the celebrated opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice, "It is a truth universally acknowledged ..." echoed in Bridget's thoughts; and in the embarrassing mother, the unethical wrong suitor, and other minor details.

Most importantly, the general theme concerning mistaken assumptions about character drives the plot in both cases.

In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy initially associates the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, with the vulgarity and ignorance exhibited by her mother and some of her sisters. Elizabeth is negatively influenced regarding Mr. Darcy through false allegations by the charming but dissolute Mr. Wickham, who briefly wins her affection, then ditches her to marry an heiress. Of course Elizabeth ends up with Mr. Darcy, after many excruciating detours, just as Bridget ends up with her Mark Darcy after a disastrous affair with Daniel, her feckless, womanizing boss. Is Bridget Jones then meant to be a latterday incarnation of Austen's favourite character?

If that is indeed so, what a v. sad commentary on the postmodern female singleton, a word coined to describe thirtysomething women desperate to marry, such as Bridget. The pressing need for a husband -- a rather dire economic necessity for Elizabeth Bennet, a social one for Bridget -- is about all they have in common.

The socially adept, circumspect, restrained, and always appropriate Elizabeth Bennet was funny because she owned a rapier wit and courageously applied it in her relationships. The socially inept, verbally incontinent Bridget Jones is funny because she gets drunk at parties, humiliates herself wearing the "universally acknowledged" uniform of exploited women (she spends many long minutes in the film spilling out of a Playboy bunny costume), frequently blurts out self-defeating indiscretions, or unthinkingly flashes her fanny at an entire viewing nation.

Elizabeth Bennet wins her man through self-discipline and strength of character, showing evidence at every plot turn of an incorruptible value system, extreme dignity under duress, and respect for others with high moral standards. Bridget wins her men through casual sexual availability, signaled by hooker-style office wear, or chasing them in the streets clad in panties. Bridget is impulsive, Elizabeth is patient. Bridget rates a man's interest in her by the urgency of his lust; Elizabeth senses interest via the emotional 19th-century Braille implicit in a series of exquisitely nuanced conversations. You know her marriage to Mr. Darcy will succeed because her mettle has been exposed and tested in the crucible of a caste-dominated social ordeal. Eminently well suited in character, if not social standing, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth deserve one another because they are moral peers -- and prove it.

Strangely, almost two centuries later, in Bridget Jones's Diary, Mark Darcy has morphed very little from the original Mr. Darcy. In Colin Firth's faithful role reprisal, he is still rich, scholarly, respected, diffident rather than haughty, and slightly prickly in much the same way as Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy. But Bridget is so very far from replicating Elizabeth that even in a comedy their union is by any stretch of the viewer's imagination inexplicable. Mark claims to like her "just the way you are," but that is pure wishful thinking on the part of the writers: How could a cloned Mr. Darcy like anyone so common, so lacking in self-respect, so, so, so not Elizabeth Bennet?

This movie appeals to today's young women because they like the message: Here is a heroine who indulges all her appetites without curbs or consequences; who mooches through life with next to no ambition (an attitude reinforced by an equally hopeless circle of friends); who exercises bad judgment in choosing men and precipitately promiscuous behaviour in holding them. Yet in the end, none of that matters because manly Mark Darcy, gentle, upright, honourable Mark Darcy, who can have anyone, is certainly going to choose to marry Bridget Jones. Why? Because she is just so ... adorable? Dream on, narcissistic singletons.

Who doesn't love a great Ditzy Dame? Consider Judy Holliday, Katharine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore. They were all adorable. But the roles they took, however kooky, were those of nice girls a man could bring home to mother. Bridget Jones' and Mark Darcy's screen characters illuminate a curious postmodern gender disparity in moral standards, considering they were both supposedly inspired by the Austen original. For the gentleman is a gentleman still, but the lady has become a tramp.