The Austin Chronicle

Bridget Jones's Diary

Rated R, 95 min. Directed by Sharon Maguire. Starring Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Gemma Jones.

REVIEWED By Sarah Hepola, Fri., April 13, 2001

Helen Fielding's 1996 book chronicles a year in the life of Bridget Jones -- 32-year-old singleton, compulsive dieter, and pity party of one -- perhaps the most popular (and reviled) comic creation of the past decade. The coup of Fielding's novel was to write a character whose neuroses and self-absorption were so hopelessly, embarrassingly familiar to single women that we couldn't help but love her -- or want to slap her silly. We are the enemy, the book seems to say, and we are so ridiculous. The film, a feature debut from BBC director/producer Sharon Maguire, isn't so risky; this Bridget Jones's Diary is as much romantic fantasy as it is social satire, but more to the point -- it is gloriously and tear-wellingly funny. Adapted by Fielding along with Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill) and Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice, Emma), the film takes its rote romantic-comedy framework -- girl meets boy, girl shags boss, girl binges on Vodka, ciggies, chocolate, and Chaka Khan, etc. -- and tosses in comic business and sight gags so unexpected that most of the film feels as unpredictable as a first kiss. (Alas, the countdown to the film's inevitable conclusion does grow a bit tiresome.) As our heroine, Zellweger ditches Bridge's crasser edges in favor of the adorable, nose-scrunching dork girl she plays best, pratfalling into one disaster after another. Zellweger gained 20 pounds and mastered an English accent to play the sought-after part, which has already landed her on the cover of seemingly every glossy around and will probably cinch her place as one of the most talented and nuanced comediennes of the day. Like Bridget Jones herself, though, Zellweger seems to elicit a love-her-or-loathe-her reaction -- perhaps it was that somewhat kneejerk comparison to Hollywood royalty, or her relentless, perky cuteness, or her swift, rattling rise from suburban everygirl to Jim Carrey's (ex-)fiancee. But Zellweger has consistently proven herself in challenging and varied leading roles -- even if the movies (One True Thing, Nurse Betty) weren't always as inspired as her performances. Here, she turns in her most endearing and eloquent portrayal since her breakthrough in Jerry Maguire; the film's opener, which finds Zellweger drunk on the couch singing and pantomiming “All By Myself” along with the stereo, is a classic. (It's heavy-handed, sure, but it's also amazing. Unfortunately, too many of the other soundtrack songs border on trite: When Bridget one-ups her boss, “Respect” kicks in. During a climactic kiss, “Someone Like You” plays. These cliched selections don't do justice to the film's originality.) Fielding's novel made generous allusions to Jane Austen to frame the novel as a modern-day social satire, and the film builds on that, borrowing two leading men from previous Austen outings to play suitors and sworn enemies: Hugh Grant, who played the good-hearted Edward in Sense and Sensibility, plays against type as an old-fashioned cad; Colin Firth should make quite a splash with the ladies as Mark Darcy, a role he played in the BBC mini-series Pride and Prejudice as well. Despite Bridget's middlebrow obsessions, her pointless crash dieting (by the end she has actually gained more weight than she's lost), her verbal incontinence, and her (somewhat) firm belief that all men are emotional fuckwittage, these men will duke it out for her. And why shouldn't they? She's Bridget Jones -- the gal who steals your heart and your Vodka.

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