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Bridget Jones's Diary

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Bridget Jones's Diary

Starring: Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant
Director: Sharon Maguire
Rated: R
RunTime: 92 Minutes
Release Date: April 2001
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Jim Broadbent, Embeth Davidtz, Crispin Bonham-Carter, Shirley Henderson, Gemma Jones, Colin Firth, Honor Blackman

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

Bridget Jones is an easy target. Smoking and wincing almost constantly, she stumbles from one social scene to another, always wearing her heart on her sleeve. A walking, talking typographical error, she is the perfect foil for those who traffic in withering remarks. Likewise, "Bridget Jones's Diary" practically begs to be insulted. The film is obvious and sloppy, filled with trite sitcom hijinks and overly broad secondary characters. But the bottom line is that both the character and the film are so charming that it's relatively easy to overlook their flaws.

Not that they won't be listed, of course.

"Bridget Jones's Diary" is based on a book I've never heard of that is apparently an enormous hit with women (that this female phenomena escaped my notice is not surprising. I only recently learned that Oprah Winfrey is using her talk show to start a religion). It debuted in 1995 as a British newspaper column by Helen Fielding, who turned it into a novel the following year. Fielding also co-wrote the script along with Andrew Davies, (who penned the television adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice") and "Notting Hill" author Richard Curtis.

The story opens at Christmas, as Bridget (Renee Zellweger) strikes out from London to spend the holiday with her parents. At a family party, her mother tries to set her up with Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), the visiting son of a neighbor, cheerfully explaining that when the two were children, Bridget used to run naked through his wading pool. The encounter goes terribly, with the oh-so-proper man treating her with contempt (she hears him describe her as a "verbally incontinent spinster"). Totally embarrassed, Bridget returns to her home and the comfort of her friends. To begin the New Year, she starts a diary, while vowing to settle for a "nice, sensible boyfriend."

Instead, she ends up exchanging saucy on-the-job e-mails with her boss, Daniel (Hugh Grant). Almost as amusing as their messages is the computer system itself, which was obviously purchased from the Movie Land Electronics Boutique. Where e-mail on our world comes grouped together in small type, Movie Land e-mail appears in very large letters, with the appearance of each word timed for maximum comic effect.

Bridget and Daniel start dating, and she learns that Mark went to college with Daniel and the two were friends until Daniel learned that Mark was having an affair with his fiancee.

Meanwhile, on the parental front, things are getting wacky. Mom (Gemma Jones) leaves Dad (Jim Broadbent) to become a product presenter on the Home Shopping Channel and starts a romance with one of its smarmy hosts. Bridget soon finds herself in the same boat as her father when she catches Daniel in the arms of another woman.

Humiliated, the quits her job (with a perfectly splendid exit scene) and sets out once again to better herself. In short order, she lands a job as a reporter on a current-affairs TV show, where she becomes a success despite some extraordinary bumbling. At a dinner party, she runs into Mark, who knocks her off her feet when he states that he likes her, "just the way you are."

As anyone who watches romantic comedies knows, this is far from the end of the story.

I realize that, on paper, "Bridget Jones's Diary" sounds lame, but trust me, it works much better onscreen. Well, most of it. A "Bridget can't sing" bit in a karaoke bar is terribly overdone and a "Bridget can't cook" scene is straight out of "Bad Sitcoms 101." Most of the secondary characters are underwritten and the subplot involving Bridget's parents plays as if a key scene is missing.

Yet the film still succeeds. Part of the reason is how easy it is to relate to Bridget, the consummate uneasy goof trying, and mostly failing, to break her bad habits and chart a better life. Sound like anyone you know?

And then there are the lead players. Colin Firth is dead-on as a sullen little boy residing in the body of an effete adult. Meanwhile, Hugh Grant looks and acts healthier and more assured than I've ever seen him before. As a suave leading man with questionable morals, he is letter perfect. Both performers handle the physical comedy adroitly as well. A fierce, wonderfully inept fight between them is one of the highlights of the movie.

But best of all is Renee Zellweger. Her casting raised a stir in Britain, where fans of the book questioned the appropriateness of an American playing a beloved English character. They also questioned her ability to pull off the accent. Skeptics be damned, Zellweger gets it right. Her accent is fine and her performance, aside from the karaoke scene, is flawless. She is the embodiment of insecurity, need, resolve, failure and eternal hope. Few actors could flesh out such a character without becoming either excessively cute or coy. Thankfully for "Bridget Jones's Diary," they hired one who could.

Copyright 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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