I've been puttering through "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi for a while now. It's a really interesting memoir on life in Iran and I'd recommend it to anyone, even though I'm not finished with it. However, what I have to say has nothing to do with life in Tehran.
Nafisi was commenting on one of her literature classes in which they discussed Washington Square's heroine Catherine Sloper. Nafisi writes that "She is the inverse of our ideas of what a heroine should be: hefty, healthy, plain, dull, literate and honest... James strips away from Catherine the qualities that make a heroine attractive; what he takes away from her he distributes among the other three characters." I have a lot to say on women in film, and this analysis brought to mind a question I've had for a while now -- Who is a heroine? What is she made of? What qualities does she have? What does she want? What makes her different than a hero?
The definition of a heroine in literature is difficult enough, but I would argue that film has a more difficult time not only in defining their heroines, but in having heroines. Female characters are often functions of the plot, created to entice audience demographics, or simply romantic distractions.
Which brings me to Bridget Jones.
Bridget Jones. I love Bridget Jones. And while Bridget Jones is a modern take on Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones and Elizabeth Bennett are quite different characters. When I read Nafisi's description of Catherine Sloper, hefty, plain, dull, honest, the "ugly" heroine, I thought of Bridget Jones. She is very similar to Catherine. She is plump, stuck in a frustrating job, alone with a destructive fixation on a complete jerk, awkward, bumbling, and very unspecial. Bridget Jones is not Kate Beckinsale or Angelina Jolie because she is not the male fantasy character. She is a real heroine who is accepted with all her mundane qualities. Darcy likes her, just as she is.
I find Bridget Jones to be a satisfying heroine not only because of her realistic protrayl and the refusal to Barbie-fy her but also because of the way she deals with her life situations, not the least of which is her mangled love life. Bridget learns she has to either accept her life situations or commit to improving them, that it's not use wallowing but it's not use pretending to be someone she's not, either. When Bridget is interviewing for a new job in television, she botches every interview where she tries to appear more informed or passionate than she really is. But when she is honest about the reason she's looking for a new job, she finally scores it.
How a character handles the ever present problem of love is a large indicator of whether or not she is a true heroine. "Women's pictures" have often been criticized or mocked because they focus so much on love. Well most of life does too, so I'm perfectly content with that. However, I am critical of characters who find their happiness in love, especially when finally getting together with that special someone sweeps away all other problems. Well, if that special someone was Colin Firth, maybe I would feel the same way. But I love the scene where skeezy Daniel Cleaver has come back and got into a terribly awesome street fight with Darcy and he tells Bridget he wants her back, that if he couldn't make it with her how could he make it with anyone. And Bridget, even though she's been mad about this guy for ages, has enough self respect and courage to tell him that's not good enough. Just because Bridget Jones is an average girl doesn't mean she settles for an average (below average, really) man. In the end, she's the one who stands up and in all her awkward glory chooses Darcy, right in the middle of his parents' ruby wedding anniversary and his engagement announcement. Like Shawna recently expounded on in her blog, the heroine calls the shots. Bridget Jones definitely learns to call all her shots in her story and she does it her own way.
I love Bridget Jones. It's one of my go-to movies. And it's a bit of wish fulfillment, I know that. Watching this movie will be the closest I ever get to Colin Firth. But it's realistic wish fulfillment, if there's any such thing. I can't be many of the women in film these days. But I can be Bridget Jones, the woman who takes on life and falls in love, just the way she is.