Bridget Jones's Diary
Bridget Jones's Diary

USA/UK, 2001. Rated R. 95 minutes.

Cast: Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent, Honor Blackman, Gemma Jones, Shirley Henderson, Sally Phillips, Crispin Bonham-Carter
Writers: Richard Curtis, Andrew Davies, Helen Fielding, based on the novel by Helen Fielding
Music: Patrick Doyle
Cinematographer: Stuart Dryburgh
Producers: Tim Bevan, Jonathan Cavendish, Eric Fellner
Director: Sharon Maguire


Grade: B+ Review by Alison Tweedie-Perry

R eady for another typical chick-flick romantic comedy? You know, the kind where our girl is super smart, super beautiful, super talented, has the perfect body, makeup, and job, but never seems to find the right guy until the right guy comes along--which is always just after she's had some intense soul-searching conversations with her best gal pal/non-threatening, asexual gay male friend and a liberating lip-synching scene to some classic feel-good oldie hit that shows just how fun-lovin' and liberated she is and that she don't need any man to be happy (until he shows up, of course). If so, don't go see Bridget Jones's Diary. It contains none of the above.

It does contain Bridget, a normal-sized, normal-beautied, normal-intellected woman who finds guys and has them found for her by her mother, hangs out with neurotic, foul-mouthed gal pals and goofy, perpetually cruising gay male friends, and lip-synchs in a far more realistic fashion. She's pretty sure that not having a man can make one terribly unhappy, but also is aware that having one isn't the fast track to bliss.

Based on the wildly successful, gut-bustingly funny, incisively accurate book by Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones's Diary should please both fans and newcomers to Bridget's particular worldview alike. The movie is funny, poignant, and raw. It's more ribald than most films about single women trying to negotiate life and love in their thirties. The honest moments, and there are many, strike the right chords of identification that give the best comedy its edge. Bridget smokes too much, drinks too much, is obsessed with the thought that she weighs too much, and generally thinks too much about everything--especially men. Always saying and doing massively inappropriate things, Bridget struggles to get the ducks of a successful life--boyfriend, job, self-esteem--in a row.

A controversial choice to play British Bridget, Texan Renée Zellweger rewards the bold vision of the casting director by being simply brilliant. It takes a scene or two to get accustomed to the accent and the style that is so far from how she appeared in Nurse Betty and other films. Renee Zellwegger and Colin FirthOnce that small hurdle is cleared, Renée becomes Bridget, and one forgets she wasn't born across the pond. Zellweger has an essential sunniness that keeps Bridget from seeming a total schlub, even though the script does occasionally lean a bit in that direction. A large part of the charm and humor of the book was the knowledge that it was the subjective viewpoint of its heroine, whose ego and lack thereof made her described episodes come off as both more humiliating and more triumphant than they likely were in "real life." Because the film presents these episodes as actually happening in the manner she describes, Bridget might have seemed a total wacko (which is clearly how she perceives herself). Zellweger's natural goodwill saves our affection for Bridget during the film's more cringingly hilarious moments.

The supporting players are uniformly good. Even the casting is an inside joke to the devotees of the book. Colin Firth (Shakespeare in Love) plays Mr. Darcy, a childhood neighbor with whom her mum tries to set Bridget up. In the book, Bridget was madly in love with Colin Firth in his portrayal of Mr. Darcy from the BBC production of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice. Hugh Grant is exceptional playing the flipside of his charming lug--the charming bastard who is really just smarmy and sad once the bloom is off the rose. He looks much leaner, older, and more rawboned. Less the adorable, floppy puppy dog he once seemed, and more a dashing, slightly dangerous wolf.

The very best thing about the film, aside from Zellweger, is the script. Written by the impressive combination of the book's author, Helen Fielding; a veteran writer of British comedies (including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and the Black Adder TV series), Richard Curtis; and a refugee from proper BBC miniseries (such as the aforementioned Pride & Prejudice and Middlemarch), Andrew Davies, much of the film is truly laugh-out-loud funny. The biggest laughs probably come during one of the most realistic, cliché-dodging, yet ridiculously goofy fight scenes ever put on film.

The film does have a few problems. First-time director Sharon Maguire seems to be a bit unsure of her tone and pacing at times. Fortunately, the lags are soon saved by more laughs or genuine moments, and ultimately the adverse effects are limited. No doubt a casualty of the time constraints of film, Bridget's pals get a bit of short shrift in their greatly diminished roles from those in the book.

There is always a danger in making movies out of well-loved books. The built-in audience, who is familiar with the characters and the stories, can be both a blessing and a curse. The trick is to please them while enticing the large segment of the population who never read the book and might have had no interest in it to begin with. Add to that the controversy over the casting of an American as the British heroine, and making a success out of the film becomes a formidable task. Not every fan of the book is likely to be delighted with the movie. Plenty of changes were made. But the spirit, wit, and style of the book are there. Creating good movies from good books is a challenge. A sharp script and a brilliant lead actress go a long way toward meeting that challenge.

Review © April 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 Miramax. All rights reserved.

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