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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 Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

You can toss away your self-help books on the subject "How to Win a Mate," and for that matter you needn't keep the classic of the genre, "How to Win Friends and Influence People." Thanks to Sharon Maguire's witty, warm, charming and goofy film, "Bridget Jones's Diary," we know the secret of winning the affection of others, and it's not those three little words. The eight words you need to practice are, "I like you just the way you are," the key quote in this wonderful, heartwarming movie. But oh, it's not that easy; the most difficult task of all is not simply mouthing the terms but genuinely believing them down to your core. How many of us are that healthy psychologically that we maintain such a love of our fellows?

Not many at all: therein lies the whole problem with the title character played by a remarkable performer. Renee Zellweger, introduced to a large audience with her role as an awestruck maiden in "Jerry Maguire" and delightful as the soap-addicted waitress in "Nurse Betty," has fleshed out a significant accomplishment this time around in a British production which finds her able not only to charm everyone in the audience (this was never her problem) but in holding on to an English accent throughout the story. Here is proof once again that the Americans (remember "Sweet November" and "Say It Isn't So")--compared to our English cousins--seem to have little competence to make romantic comedy.

Since most of us are hip enough to realize that other people do not automatically like us just the way we are, we work out in gyms, we take courses to improve our diction and knowledge, we spend half our paychecks lying on the couch spilling our guts to professionals who are probably making out their grocery lists while we chatter. The Bridget Jones created by Helen Fielding's best-selling novel is the sort who, at age thirty-two, overweight, drinking and smoking heavily, believes that she has no chance of outrunning her biological clock much less even meeting her soul mate unless she does something about her flaws. Remarkably, while self- improvement is cool--cutting down on alcohol, tobacco and food is perfectly appropriate--her presumed race toward permanent spinsterhood has little to do with her bad habits but everything to do with the lack of available men. This is the very reason that women are more likely to go for "Bridget Jones's Diary" than men, given that while Bridget herself is a klutz, the men in her life are worse.

Just before Ms. Jones begins to commit her daily experiences to a diary hoping her book will somehow communicate what she needs to do, her mum (Gemma Jones) goes through the usual maternal rites of trying to fix her daughter up with eligible men. This time around, Bridget, who is herself a publicist for a major London publishing firm run by Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), is introduced to a man she grows to dislike for spurning her, human rights lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). While she resolves to look for a down-to-earth guy, she instead winds up with her clever, flirtatious boss, Daniel, who is accustomed to writing coquettish e-mail to her, commenting on the brevity of her skirts. "Is your skirt out sick today?" is a sample of the publisher's repartee, an exchange which eventually results in their commencing an affair. Almost simultaneously with the dampening of the undertaking, her mother announces that she has left her father (Jim Broadbent) and has taken up with an unctuous fellow who hawks schlock on a home shopping channel.

Fortunately for a typical American audience, English romantic comedy does not rely on the often prosaic talkiness so common to French films. Director Sharon Maguire has a keen sense of pacing and of comic timing, in one case flashing a series of still pictures across the screen to sum up Bridget's love life for the year. She never lingers too long on a party, a bedroom scene, or a vista of her title character's depressed musings along in her flat watching everything from the shopping channel to "Fatal Attraction." Though Maguire takes us sharply from one scene to another, the entire movie is seamless, with Zellweger appearing in almost every scene in a variety of clothing from a bathing suit in the dead of a blistery winter's night (filmed with machine-made snow, incidentally, in the middle of a London summer) to some stunning formal wear when she makes a bumbling speech at a formal reception. Side roles of Bridget's well-meaning but not-at-all helpful friends fit in neatly as does a cameo with Salman Rushdie at a publishing party which features Bridget meaning to ask Mr. Rushdie something of significance but ending asking him for directions to the loo.

If men are not as attracted to this film as women, they're making a mistake in logic. Men would do well to think of their own vulnerabilities. Despite our macho walk and gallant talk, don't we all feel a little like jello inside just like Bridget--that we have no chance in the world to be liked simply as we are?

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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