2001's "Bridget Jones's Diary" was a charmer of a movie, a thoughtful
and sweet romantic comedy with a heroine who was lovable precisely
because she was imperfect—her habits included swearing, smoking, and
drinking, she was naturally a little clumsy, and irresistible Renee
Zellweger had a few extra pounds that separated her from modern-day's
onslaught of rail-thin Hollywood actresses. As the picture ended,
Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) had won over the noble Mark Darcy
(Colin Firth) and taken a critical step in being more comfortable
in her own body, backed up by the sincerity in her new beau's words
to her: "I love you just as you are." It wasn't a new message in the
world of cinema—that of accepting yourself and those around you no
matter the differences—but it was carried out with a heartwarming
substantiality lacking in many similar thematic films.
Directed by Beeban Kidron (1995's "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything,
Julie Newmar"), "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" may be based on
the follow-up novel by Helen Fielding, but that doesn't make it any
less unnecessary. Essentially, this is the same film as "Bridget Jones's
Diary," a slapdash rehash that concocts a number of inferior variations
on scenes from its predecessor and takes our perpetually perky, put-upon
heroine through a remarkably similar plot trajectory. What was once
fresh and genuine, however, now feels strained and downright desperate.
In reality, three-and-a-half years have passed since Bridget Jones
and Mark Darcy finally shared their feelings for each other on that
snowy London street, but in the film world it has only been six weeks.
All is well for our happy singleton-no-more until she starts gathering
suspicions that Mark may be cheating on her with his overly friendly
colleague, Rebecca (Jacinda Barrett). When further incriminating evidence
comes into view—a foregone misunderstanding and a flimsy excuse to
create conflict—Bridget's relationship with Mark suddenly goes kaput.
Fate suddenly steps into Bridget's life when she is once again reunited
with seductive, smarmy Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) to do a journalistic
piece in Thailand. Despite an uncertainty in whether to trust Daniel
again, a potentially blossoming but wrongheaded romance between them
forces Bridget to reassess the conclusions she jumped to in breaking
up with Mark and the love she still holds for him.
With four writers lending a hand in the screenplay—Andrew Davies,
Richard Curtis, Adam Brooks, and novelist Helen Fielding herself—and
none of them capable of taking Bridget Jones and her life in different
and new places, it is all the more obvious that "Bridget Jones: The
Edge of Reason" never should have been made. The original film stood
on its own as a satisfying and complete whole; revisiting the characters
and having them do the same things with no further personal growth
and only a fraction of the charisma cheapens what has come before.
This is one sequel where a pressing need to find out what happened
to the protagonist is absent, replaced, instead, by an attempt to
cash in on the financial success of the first picture.
Notably disquieting is in the treatment of Bridget Jones herself.
In its precursor, she felt like a real, flawed, flesh-and-blood human
being, a sympathetic 32-year-old woman whose occasional klutziness
and discomfort in social situations were endearing character traits.
In "The Edge of Reason," Bridget is too often viewed in a mean-spirited
light, her naturally clumsy persona treated like pathetic buffoonery.
The first film laughed with Bridget; this one makes the dire mistake
of laughing at her, which, coincidentally, stifles the humor. A few
choice moments remain, none more so than an outrageous stint on the
ski slops that left me tearing up with laughter, but, by and large,
the set-pieces are more tedious than funny. An elongated stop at a
Bangkok prison when Bridget is caught unknowingly carrying cocaine
in her bag is just plain bizarre, sure proof that the material is being stretched thin.
Renee Zellweger (2003's "Down with Love") fits back into the role
and English accent of Bridget Jones with ease, a comedic performance
with heart, but even she can't stop her part from being more of a
caricature this time around. Her chemistry with Colin Firth (2003's
"Love, Actually"), once palpable and winning, is non-existent here.
Mark Darcy mediates between oafishness and aloofness, not helped by
a performance from Firth that is hopelessly bland. Oddly enough, Zellweger
shares more sparks with Hugh Grant (2002's "Two Weeks Notice") in
their fleeting scenes together, but their energetic interplay is for
nothing; Grant's Daniel Cleaver was, and still is, an unsavory womanizer.
As Bridget's parents, Gemma Jones (2002's "Harry Potter and the Chamber
of Secrets") and Jim Broadbent (2004's "Vanity Fair") have seen their
turns reduced to glorified cameos. Finally, the talented Jacinda Barrett
(2004's "Ladder 49") brings a touch of humanity to Rebecca in her
final scene, her character arc a delightful twist on what is expected of her.
"Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" treads the same ground as "Bridget
Jones's Diary"—the opening Christmas party Bridget attends at her
family's home; the misadventures she has working as a news reporter;
the insecurities she has about herself and her relationships; her
gossipy get-togethers with pals Shazzer (Sally Phillips), Tom (James
Callis), and Jude (Shirley Henderson); and even the childish climactic
fight between Mark and Daniel—but there is little joy in it and a
glaring deficiency of details. There is also a carelessness in the
way director Beeban Kidron is willing to take the plot of "Bridget
Jones's Diary" and not even attempt to put a fresh spin on it.
What is nearly missing altogether is the one element that should have
been more strongly carried over from the original: Bridget's diary.
The diary was a way to get inside the mind of Bridget to see and hear
and feel what she was thinking, but it only appears a handful of times,
and then only as afterthoughts. "Bridget Jones's Diary" welcomed you
into her quirkily fetching life and psyche, and got you to care about
her ultimate happiness. "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" distances
the viewer from her, all the while making a mockery out of her lovably
offbeat qualities. The filmmakers, actors, and studio would have been
wise to leave well-enough alone, but then they wouldn't have gotten
those all-important hefty paychecks.
Copyright © 2004 Dustin Putman