Bridget Jones is an easy target. Smoking and wincing almost constantly,
she stumbles from one social scene to another, always wearing her heart
on her sleeve. A walking, talking typographical error, she is the
perfect foil for those who traffic in withering remarks. Likewise,
"Bridget Jones's Diary" practically begs to be insulted. The film is
obvious and sloppy, filled with trite sitcom hijinks and overly broad
secondary characters. But the bottom line is that both the character and
the film are so charming that it's relatively easy to overlook their
Not that they won't be listed, of course.
"Bridget Jones's Diary" is based on a book I've never heard of that is
apparently an enormous hit with women (that this female phenomena
escaped my notice is not surprising. I only recently learned that Oprah
Winfrey is using her talk show to start a religion). It debuted in 1995
as a British newspaper column by Helen Fielding, who turned it into a
novel the following year. Fielding also co-wrote the script along with
Andrew Davies, (who penned the television adaptation of "Pride and
Prejudice") and "Notting Hill" author Richard Curtis.
The story opens at Christmas, as Bridget (Renee Zellweger) strikes out
from London to spend the holiday with her parents. At a family party,
her mother tries to set her up with Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), the
visiting son of a neighbor, cheerfully explaining that when the two were
children, Bridget used to run naked through his wading pool. The
encounter goes terribly, with the oh-so-proper man treating her with
contempt (she hears him describe her as a "verbally incontinent
spinster"). Totally embarrassed, Bridget returns to her home and the
comfort of her friends. To begin the New Year, she starts a diary, while
vowing to settle for a "nice, sensible boyfriend."
Instead, she ends up exchanging saucy on-the-job e-mails with her boss,
Daniel (Hugh Grant). Almost as amusing as their messages is the computer
system itself, which was obviously purchased from the Movie Land
Electronics Boutique. Where e-mail on our world comes grouped together
in small type, Movie Land e-mail appears in very large letters, with the
appearance of each word timed for maximum comic effect.
Bridget and Daniel start dating, and she learns that Mark went to
college with Daniel and the two were friends until Daniel learned that
Mark was having an affair with his fiancee.
Meanwhile, on the parental front, things are getting wacky. Mom (Gemma
Jones) leaves Dad (Jim Broadbent) to become a product presenter on the
Home Shopping Channel and starts a romance with one of its smarmy hosts.
Bridget soon finds herself in the same boat as her father when she
catches Daniel in the arms of another woman.
Humiliated, the quits her job (with a perfectly splendid exit scene) and
sets out once again to better herself. In short order, she lands a job
as a reporter on a current-affairs TV show, where she becomes a success
despite some extraordinary bumbling. At a dinner party, she runs into
Mark, who knocks her off her feet when he states that he likes her,
"just the way you are."
As anyone who watches romantic comedies knows, this is far from the end
of the story.
I realize that, on paper, "Bridget Jones's Diary" sounds lame, but trust
me, it works much better onscreen. Well, most of it. A "Bridget can't
sing" bit in a karaoke bar is terribly overdone and a "Bridget can't
cook" scene is straight out of "Bad Sitcoms 101." Most of the secondary
characters are underwritten and the subplot involving Bridget's parents
plays as if a key scene is missing.
Yet the film still succeeds. Part of the reason is how easy it is to
relate to Bridget, the consummate uneasy goof trying, and mostly
failing, to break her bad habits and chart a better life. Sound like
anyone you know?
And then there are the lead players. Colin Firth is dead-on as a sullen
little boy residing in the body of an effete adult. Meanwhile, Hugh
Grant looks and acts healthier and more assured than I've ever seen him
before. As a suave leading man with questionable morals, he is letter
perfect. Both performers handle the physical comedy adroitly as well. A
fierce, wonderfully inept fight between them is one of the highlights of
But best of all is Renee Zellweger. Her casting raised a stir in
Britain, where fans of the book questioned the appropriateness of an
American playing a beloved English character. They also questioned her
ability to pull off the accent. Skeptics be damned, Zellweger gets it
right. Her accent is fine and her performance, aside from the karaoke
scene, is flawless. She is the embodiment of insecurity, need, resolve,
failure and eternal hope. Few actors could flesh out such a character
without becoming either excessively cute or coy. Thankfully for "Bridget
Jones's Diary," they hired one who could.
Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott