Whether the feature film version of "Bridget Jones's Diary" -- that exalted, best-selling ode to 30-something single gals -- properly captures the oversized pajamas-and-Haagen Dazs essence of "singleton" romantic vexation, I cannot say.
I am male and I haven't read the book, and either one of these facts excludes me from being a bona fide member of the cult following that has built up around this lovelorn English Everywoman. Everything I know about Bridget's struggles with smoking, men and her weight I have gleaned from friends' enthusiastic reviews of the two Helen Fielding novels, which I'm told are written as diary entries in the heroine's first-person short-hand. (I hear both books are v., v. good.)
But I do consider myself something of an expert on (and an unabashed fan of) winsome romantic comedies, and on that front, I'd have to say this movie is a winner.
As brought to life by Renée Zellweger (in a convincing English accent), Bridget Jones is the consummate modern amour-neurotic. Always looking for love, sometimes willing to settle for sex, and forever psychoanalyzing (and second-guessing) herself, she's just as adorable and endearing as the coy young mom Zellweger played in "Jerry Maguire," but with several more tarnished years of romantic disappointment weighing on her attitude.
"It all began on New Year's Day in my 32nd year of being single," she says sardonically in what is to become the running internal monologue that ties the events in the movie to the entries in her journal. (Sometimes, to illustrate a point, notes in her diary are scribbled over the action on the screen as well.)
The story largely concerns Bridget suddenly going from miserably manless (in a hilarious early scene she gets drunk alone at home and sings along to Jamie O'Neal's "All By Myself") to having two suitors -- a situation she simply doesn't know what to do with.
One of them is Daniel (a delightfully roguish Hugh Grant), her boss at a publishing firm and a total cad. But that doesn't stop her from making a fool of herself by flirting and -- against her better judgement -- going to bed with him. Pretty soon she's decided she'd best change careers, logging for the record "am suddenly a hard-headed journalist" after getting a fluffy job in television that is full of its own disasters.
The other prospect is Mark Darcy (played by Colin Firth, an actor Bridget has a mad crush on in the book), a bitterly serious barrister, recently divorced, who seems to choke on his attempts to be sociable. But he really makes an effort with Bridget, who pretty much wants nothing to do with him even though she is hardly one to judge a person for letting nervousness get the best of him. But she warms to him after he helps her career by granting her an exclusive interview in one of his high-profile court cases.
Both sexual ecstasy and abject misery are in store, of course, and it isn't long before Bridget is literally sneaking up on her answering machine, as if hoping to catch messages by surprise before they run away and hide. It's just such nuances in her performance that help Zellweger so vividly personify this beloved character. She pouts and puffs, she frets and blushes, sometimes her heart takes over her motor mouth, but she's always full of determination. Zellweger gives this Bridget Jones an absolutely empathetic familiarity that makes the movie feel like an entertaining anthem for the frustratingly forlorn.
As directed by feature rookie Sharon Maguire (a TV and documentary vet who is pals with the author), the atmosphere of "Bridget Jones's Diary" does feel a bit too much like it was cast from a mold provided by producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner ("Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill"). But Maguire knows enough to follow her heroine's heart to find the movie's unique voice.
It's an ambrosial voice that comes from a recipe comprised of Bridget's running internal commentary, her authentic, personality-defining foibles, her wicked wit that seems to abandon her when she most needs it -- and from the fact that Zellweger gained 30 pounds to give her performance the cellulite authenticity Bridget's fans would demand.
While "Bridget Jones" may not be a romantic comedy classic, it's definitely got the goods to be a major hit.
Run time: 97 mins
In Theaters: Friday 13th April 2001
Box Office USA: $70.8M
Box Office Worldwide: $281.9M
Distributed by: Miramax Films
Production compaines: Miramax Films, Universal Pictures, Studio Canal, Working Title Films, Little Bird
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Fresh: 124 Rotten: 30
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Sharon Maguire
Starring: Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones, Colin Firth as Mark Darcy, Hugh Grant as Daniel Cleaver, Gemma Jones as Bridget's Mum, Jim Broadbent as Bridget's Dad, James Callis as Tom, Sally Phillips as Shazza, Shirley Henderson as Jude, Embeth Davidtz as Natasha, Lisa Barbuscia as Lara
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