IT IS a truth universally acknowledged that millennials love Bridget Jones. “Mad About the Boy” (2013), the most recent novel in Helen Fielding’s franchise, sold close to 50,000 copies in a single day in Britain despite middling reviews and an unpopular plotline. The film adaptations, “Bridget Jones’s Diary” (2001) and “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” (2004), together grossed over $540m worldwide. When Prospero asked a friend and fellow millennial about the hapless heroine’s appeal, she said “watching Bridget Jones is like watching snippets of you and your friends’ own lives.”
Prospero doesn’t know anyone that has mistakenly turned up to a garden party dressed as a Playboy bunny—or indeed spent time in a Thai prison for accidental drug smuggling—but there is little point denying that Ms Jones is one of the few truly relatable characters to have graced the silver screen. When she emerged from Ms Fielding’s column in the Independent in the 1990s, she was a relevation. She was one of the first female characters to agonise over her weight, her relationships, her fashion choices and her career. She knows that she cannot help but disappoint her mother, make painful social blunders (telling “Horatio” that his opinions are “the sort of rubbish you’d expect from fat, balding, Tory, Home Counties, upper-middle-class twits”) and experience culinary disasters. She finds love and loses it. She pretends to forget the name of her ex-lover’s new partner. Many young women can empathise with the appeal of a cad like Daniel Cleaver or a stiff drink and some mopey ballads on a lonely night. Bridget Jones is alive to feminism’s promise of “having it all”, but finds that the reality on the ground is far different.
Data show that Renée Zellweger’s character is in many ways representative of the average woman in Britain (see chart). Though she drinks more (half a bottle of wine more per week), earns more as a “top news producer” and takes fewer “men for [her] own pleasure”, she matches the physical blueprint of the everywoman exactly. While the average woman gets engaged at 28, her engagement to Mark Darcy came at 32 and her first pregnancy took place much later (Emma Thompson, who is brilliant as the gynaecologist in “Bridget Jones’s Baby”, repeatedly refers to her as a “geriatric mother”, much to Bridget’s horror). The accidental nature of her pregnancy is common—Bridget uses out of date “dolphin-friendly” vegan condoms—the Wellcome Trust estimates that one in six pregnancies in Britain are unplanned.
“Bridget Jones’s Baby” drags this luckless lady into the modern world of algorithms, polyamorous relationships and Instagrammed meals. She curtly reminds her farcically conservative mother—whose campaign for the local parish council proudly announces that she supports “most Italians and gays”—that even the most unconventional families deserve acceptance. She shuns technology in favour of real experiences and emotions, stands up for herself in a workplace which “celebrates the inane” and vows to her unborn child that she’ll do her best. Millennials could do a lot worse than Bridget Jones.