Bridget Jones's Diary
Bridget Jones's Diary
Bridget Jones's Diary
Bridget Jones's Diary
M O V I E    R E V I E W    B Y    E L I Z A B E T H    A B E L E

First-time director Sharon Maguire brings to Hollywood Helen Fieldingís popular novel Bridget Jonesís Diary. Supposedly, fans of the novel questioned the casting of Texan Renée Zellweger as too thin and glamorous for Bridget Jones. Though I refuse to participate in the coverage of star weight fluctuations, suffice it to say that Zellweger as Jones successfully avoids being "too posh," appearing consistently with unkempt hair, spodgy complexion, and often a ciggie dangling out of her mouth. Zellweger is extremely funny in her constant lack of inner poise, totally unlike her radiant presence in Nurse Betty. It is only her inimitable courage in the face of her series of humiliations that gives the character any charm. It is hard to feel too sorry for this mess of a woman, who somehow attracts the attentions of the equally rich and dishy Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) and Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant).

American audiences know Colin Firth (if at all) from the BBC Pride and Prejudice mini-series--and his casting is not a coincidence given that Helen Fielding patterned the character of Darcy and the romantic triangle of Bridget Jones's Diary on Jane Austenís Pride and Prejudice. Firth updates the figure of Darcy with ease, without any sense that he is living in the wrong century: he is equally adept playing a modern Londoner as appearing in a corset drama. Firthís Mark Darcy is less prejudiced than his Mr. Darcy and less prideful than reserved amidst the public flounderings of Bridget. Even in his reserve, Mark projects a winsome sorrow that is charming. I hope that this performance will encourage American audiences to view Milos Formanís Valmont, based on the same novel as Stephen Frearís Dangerous Liaisons: Firth and then-unknown Annette Bening are infinitely more seductive than John Malkovich and Glenn Close.

Hugh Grant brings his trademark sheepishness to Bridgetís boss, Daniel Cleaver--but his floppy hair and grin are less charming on Daniel than the transparent ploys of a handsome cad. Grant brings an exuberance to his courtship of Bridget, presenting a directness that is refreshing for a Grant character. The "street fight" between Mark and Daniel is fabulously hilarious, as two lanky, upper-crust Brits passionately flail at each other.

Jim Broadbent (Topsy-Turvy) and Gemma Jones (Sense and Sensibility) play Bridgetís semi-estranged parents, providing a comic counterpart for their daughterís romantic disasters. Colin Jones is quietly compelling as Bridgetís ineffectual ally; Mrs. Jones is hilarious and poignant as an ignored housewife driven to her daftness and affair with a shopping network host by the cool tolerance of her family.

As wonderful as these performances are, I felt an overall uneasiness at how this felt like an "Americanized" British romantic comedy--not by the casting of Zellweger, who is a fine frump, but in how the film is more sentimental than sharply funny, and in the wasting of the supporting cast. In Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, it was the strong if brief performances of the supporting cast that made the films rich. The filmís Web site only profiles Zellweger, Grant, and Firth; I wanted to see more of her officemates, particularly Perpetua, and her rival. Embeth Davidtz (Bicentennial Man) as Natasha never develops the strong presence of "Duckface" in Four Weddings. Her single friends appear so briefly that the challenges of being a singleton in London are glossed over to focus on her romances. Instead of feeling Bridgetís strength and pain as a singleton, the sentimental scoring and focus of the film promotes the inevitability of Bridgetís couple-dom.

I wish the film had more comfortably embraced its British-ness, rather than feeling as American-sanitized as Chocolat. The Webs site takes the time to present a glossary of such common "Britishisms" as "sacked," "daft," "fancy," and "bloody" that anyone who has ever seen a British movie or TV series would know. With the blockbuster success of Notting Hill, particularly compared to the more modest performance of the London-translated-to Chicago High Fidelity, the producers should have had more faith that American audiences can enjoy a quirky film truly set in London, without having to water it down.

This is a fine romantic comedy, and Firth has given women worldwide another Darcy to swoon over.

[rating: 3 of 4 stars]

Movie Studio Web site: Miramax
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Photos: ©2001 Miramax and Universal Pictures. All rights reserved.