This year sees the continuation of two much beloved stories: Bridget Jones and My Big Fat Greek Wedding (MBFGW for the purposes of this article). The first of each was very successful, and they sit safely in the “rom-coms we still remember” category, rather than the much more crowded “oh yeah, I DO remember that one” category, or the worse, “they really made that?” group. Bringing these two back at the same time naturally leads to comparison, and so we are here to determine which, of the two original movies, is a better film.
First, let’s put our opponents in context. Bridget Jones’s Diary was released in 2001, and starred Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, and Hugh Grant. It was directed by Sharon Maguire, with a screenplay by Helen Fielding, who wrote the novel on which the film was based. A very brief synopsis: an awkward woman named Bridget decides to take an analytical approach to her problem (lack of sensible man, or any sense at all) by keeping a diary. Over the course of her record-keeping, she sleeps with her womanizing boss, then after realizing she misunderstood his character as well as that of grumpy lawyer Mark Darcy, she discovers that the grumpy but handsome lawyer is the one for her, after all.
MBFGW was released in 2002, and starred then-unknown actress Nia Vardalos, who also co-wrote the screenplay. It was directed by Joel Zwick. A very brief synopsis: frumpy and overlooked Toula Portokalos decides to take control of her life. She quits her job as a waitress at her family’s Greek restaurant, starts taking classes, buys some new clothes and contact lenses, and begins working at her aunt’s travel agency. Almost as soon as she has made these changes, she meets equally frumpy teacher Ian Miller, and they fall in love. The rest of the movie is her struggle to get her family to accept that she has made her own choice, and that her choice is so very not Greek.
Both of these movies are enjoyable to watch, and both check all of the boxes needed for a good love story. Take two people that don’t seem like they fit together, make them fall in love, throw an impediment in their way, and you’ve got your story right there in the resulting conflict. They even both have pretty ordinary people as their heroines. Yet, one film is far more thoughtful and interesting than the other, despite their apparent similarity. My Big Fat Greek Wedding has far and away more wit and character, while Bridget Jones’s Diary has a surface-level appeal that fades with each successive viewing.
As a young teenager, I saw Bridget Jones’s Diary many times–it was a favorite to pull out when a few friends got together, and I doubt we were the only such teens (it had the ’90s dreamiest Brits, after all). By the time I reached college, I could confidently re-enact Bridget singing “All By Myself”, knowing that people would get the reference, even if they hadn’t seen the film. Revisiting it as an adult woman and, moreover, an adult Jane Austen enthusiast, I can’t help but cringe when I think of how her words were used to make something with so much less substance than her novels.
…Let me back up for a minute. I didn’t mention it above, but Bridget Jones’s Diary, the original, draws inspiration from Pride and Prejudice. Bridget falls in love with Mark Darcy, Bridget works at Pemberly Press, Bridget thinks Wickh… Daniel Cleaver is the one done wrong by Mark Darcy, when really Darcy is the one with unimpeachable character. It’s all out in the open and very clear. What is disappointing, however, is that Bridget Jones’s Diary borrows from Pride and Prejudice, but borrows only some words and a bit of plot, without borrowing the real spirit of the novel. There is no social commentary, very little real wit, and not much in the way of true character development.
Bridget Jones’s Diary makes only the briefest of nods to the agency of women (there’s that one time Bridget turns Daniel down even though he’s attractive and apologetic and she’s single). It borrows Jane Austen’s words casually (“It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces”). Bridget herself is a caricature of the 30-something single woman, who eats and cries alone while reading up on how to get a man or reading up on how to not need a man. It’s a rom-com, so it’s necessary to the plot that she be concerned about a man (and vice versa), but Pride and Prejudice was a romantic comedy (before that term existed), and it still managed to make some pointed statements about the position of women in 19th-century England (and most of those points are still relevant today). It can be done. But I’m not here to hold anyone to the standards of Jane Austen’s genius–who could live up to that? I’m talking about two popular romantic comedies from the same era. Back to the 2000s…
MBFGW must have been on repeat on HBO for at least a couple years after it was released on DVD, because I watched it more times than I cared to keep track of back in high school. Even so, I never got tired of it, and if it were still showing perpetually on cable, I’d still be watching. However, holding it up against Bridget Jones’s Diary in the same areas I critiqued above–plot, social commentary, wit, and character development–it’s not the obvious winner. MBFGW didn’t borrow plot quite as obviously as Bridget Jones did, but it certainly borrowed something. All romantic comedies (and all movies, to an extent) do. In terms of wit, though, MBFGW is far and away the winner. Where Bridget Jones has some funny moments and takes a couple of Jane Austen’s better lines, MBFGW actually has much more of the spirit of Jane Austen’s humor than Bridget Jones does (and MBFGW isn’t trying), and it has some clever lines that are original–not borrowed, not imitation. MBFGW is funny and sweet in the same way that its characters are funny and sweet. You laugh at their absurdity, you laugh harder because of how sincere they are in their absurdity, and you love them because they are family. Bridget Jones is absurd, but she and her friends are hardly three-dimensional enough to be lovable.
On top of telling a good story, MBFGW works in some commentary–not on women’s position in society (since we mostly already agree that women can choose to marry outside of their ethnicity/religion), but on compromising between individual choice and the expectations of a family that loves you. Toula stood her ground on the choices that mattered–finding a new job, marrying Ian–but gave ground where it did no harm and made her family happy–in their wedding plans. This substance doesn’t wear thin over time, where the lack of depth to Bridget Jones and her story does.
“Now that you’ve convinced me MBFGW is the better movie,” you say, “What do you think about My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and Bridget Jones’s Baby?”
Well, I have no strong opinion on sequels. I will say this, however: there is no Pride and Prejudice 2.
Featured Image: Miramax/IFC Films