So here are nine things Bridget Jones’s Diary just taught us about the romance genre, and our relationship to it.
1. The hero is there to reassure the heroine that she’s awesome just the way she is. He’s also there to be enough of a fool that the heroine has to find more bravery and gumption than she’s had before.
This, we sort of love. And it’s easily extensible to LGBTQ romance. It’s definitely something lurking in our stories. But wow, neither of us could stand Bridget’s fear of singleness. She lamented about being single all 32 years of her life; I’m fairly sure that wasn’t a crisis for her when she was four, or ten, or hopefully even 18. We love that romance is about characters looking at their fears and overcoming them; but we’re less enthused by what this film, at least, says female fears are.
2. Romances should remind us of ourselves at our worst, and also at our best.
This film did that for me in spades. When this film came out I was 29, ending a mess of a long-term and very muddled relationship, and out of my damn mind. If I had seen this then, I absolutely would have recognized my then immediate circumstances in it, and then lamented that all the misunderstandings of the relationship I was ending weren’t going to work out in a set of adorable, happily every afters with a surprise, you get Colin Firth! at the end (more on him later).
Which makes Erin and I wonder — romance as a genre is about fantasy, and about feeling good, but isn’t it also a little bit about pressing our thumbs into the romantic bruises we already have?
3. Heterosexuality seems kind of weird and stressful when you take a step back.
Erin and I are both queer authors. We’re also both bisexual. She’s partnered to a man; I’m partnered to a woman; and we both spent most of this film emailing each other about how weird it felt to be touristing in the land of straight people. There was so much status being derived from partners and women trying to out woman each other and men trying to out man each other, and it kind of didn’t make sense to us, except when it did.
I talk about my sexuality as a choice, even though born this way language is fashionable these days and is true for many many people. This movie exemplified why I like the language of choice. Being any of these people struck me as terrifying, even if every time I find Colin Firth wildly attractive I suddenly realize me and straight women actually have something in common. (P.S., to re-queer this up a little, Renee Zellweger’s assets in this movie are amazing).
4. Every romance needs a cheering section.
How great were Bridget’s friends? Heroes and heroines need people on their side, even if they’re too wrapped up in their drama to see that. Erin and I want all the romances we read and watch and write to be filled with more awesome friendships. While we’re celebrating love, we should celebrate many types of it.
5. What even is a Happily Ever After?
By some definitions Bridget Jones’s Diary only has a Happy for Now ending. After all, there’s no wedding, and apparently it has a sequel (not sure we’re actually brave enough to face that).
So what even is an HEA? Is it a wedding? I hear from lots of people it’s a wedding. In LGBTQ romance, that still feels weird. Our people can’t get married everywhere, and our cultural feelings about marriage are complex. If we’re writing LGBTQ romance for an audience that’s inclusive of LGBTQ readers, then a wedding isn’t the right HEA for every story. Here, and with great caution because I know how important HEAs are to readers, I think Bridget Jones’s Diary tells us that maybe we should expand our definition of what an HEA is.
6. Love is the most important thing.
In Bridget Jones’s Diary the guy gives up his swank job in New York for the weirdo girl in London. And it’s romantic as hell. But for Erin and I, who relentlessly write romances about ambitious people, the question becomes how much sacrifice has to be made to satisfy the reader? And if two people are perfect for each other, how much of themselves or their other desires should they really be giving up?
7. You don’t need a villain, but you do need a cad.
Bad guys in romances don’t have to be evil. Just callous. These stories aren’t about good triumphing over evil, but the emotionally present triumphing over the fearful and uncaring. No mustache twirling needed.
8. Farce is your friend.
The ridiculous misunderstanding is a staple of the romance genre. And while sometimes that can get irksome and frustrating (and it did for both of us regarding this film), that structural device is great for pacing your story.
9. You need a killer last line.
That’s it. There’s no other observation to make here. For everything about this film that didn’t resonate for one or both of us, we were both totally head over heels for the last two lines of this film. Sexy, perfect, and clever.
Now, we want to hear from you. What did this ridiculous film teach you about our genre? And what romance should we engage with next in our ongoing quest to understand the ins-and-outs of the stories we tell and how they do and don’t fit into the romance genre?