Bridget Jones's Diary
Director: Sharon Maguire. Cast: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Gemma Jones, Jim Broadbent, Shirley Henderson, Sally Phillips, James Callis, Embeth Davidtz, Celia Imrie, James Faulkner, Charmian May. Screenplay: Helen Fielding, Andrew Davies, and Richard Curtis (based on the novel by Helen Fielding).

February 15, 2002: 149 lbs, cigs 0 (am total non-smoker, and so no cause for celebration), calories infinite (but permissible, as attended Valentine's Day party), number of times have now seen Bridget Jones film 2, years elapsed since first viewing 1, number of people watched with 12, number of satisfied customers 12 (v.v.g.).

2 am: Have spent lovely Friday of Valentine's Day weekend at large graduate-school video-watching party where Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge and Sharon Maguire's Bridget Jones's Diary were featured attractions. Confession #1: Often have hard time watching videos with large groups, as am total Film Fanatic, usually cannot help being disgruntled by ambient conversation, loud cheering, etc. Plus, tend to take movies so (too?) much to heart and so am disappointed by frequent fact that popular crowd-drawing films tend not to be best exemplars of cinematic medium. Am aware of snobby aspect of disposition in this manner, am not proud, but do not think self truly élitist, can still play nicely with the other boys and girls—but still, am relieved and gratified when, as with both Moulin Rouge and Bridget Jones's Diary, movies that draw large fan bases manage to do so without pandering or becoming massive, bombastic adventure involving asteroid, tomb raider, or similar. When fellow video-watchers are cheering and stamping for Bridget, self is all but unfazed. Indeed, am often cheering and stamping in unison, in manner of pep-rally ingénue or similar.

Confession #2: As avid fan of Bridget Jones books—yes, both of them!—had uneasy expectations when first film debuted stateside in April 2001. Was not convinced diary format and interior perspective could be well-adapted to screen; was concerned character would be homogenized out of specific British idiom and that fantastic gaggle of neurotic friends would be thrust to sidelines; was worried that hilarious lines on page would not survive as spoken dialogue; was upset above all, like so many readers, at casting of skinny Texan thing as more or less plain-Jane British laugh-riot. Turns out earlier fears were largely confirmed by film, but latter (and much more crucial) reservations need never have caused anxiety, as film adaptation remains whiz-bang comedy, especially through first hour, and even better, Zellweger is beyond charming.

Do not get self wrong: Oscar nomination for Zellweger as Bridget does not seem absolutely necessary, albeit fitting recompense for refreshingly ornery but overlooked One True Thing performance and totally winning Jerry Maguire breakthrough. Also true that Bridget as written is such hilarious, well-nuanced, easily likable character that audience sympathy is not hard to elicit and variety of actresses could have scored with part. Still, Zellweger emerges with near-triumph in tricky genre—for Americans, anyway—of latter-day British situational comedy that is specialty of Working Title films. One has only to recall Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral (horrid, repulsive memory!) to realize how much can go wrong for inept Yank in U.K. crowd-pleaser. Even Julia Roberts acquitted herself in Notting Hill only at cost of playing brittle, frosty role in film roundly (though enjoyably) slanted in Hugh Grant's favor.

Zellweger's victory in Bridget Jones's Diary, by contrast, has everything to do with actress's refreshing ability to take self unseriously, as proven not only by past film choices (even suspect projects like Me, Myself & Irene or similar), plus dozens of chit-chatty interviews and giggly, Lahti-type Golden Globe mishap of being caught in loo while name was called in 2000, for Nurse Betty. Is essence of Zellweger charm, and works to perfect advantage in latest role. Clearly, presence of more poised or establishment-certified star would get in way of audience identification with Bridget, which is key to film. For revealing counter-example, notice how Gwyneth Paltrow, an actress I like equally to Zellweger, played "Ordinary Girl" role in Farrellys' Shallow Hal with admirable sensitivity and plenty of pluck, yet was largely rejected by audiences, esp. women, as Paltrow's presence felt incongruous, even condescending, in context. Zellweger has avoided such rejection by building enviable, interesting career without turning into plastic Hollywood mannequin or alienating core female viewers. I suspect that, even more than much-touted weight-gain, is instead the un-grandiosity of Zellweger's persona, her ability to underplay and exhibit natural-seeming sweetness instead of carefully-calibrated Glamorous Patina, that allowed world to embrace her as Bridget Jones.

Plus, must not overlook fact that creeping audience expectation that Texan ex-girlfriend of Jim Carrey is going to fall flat on face as Bridget is precisely the electric charge that reinforces key dimension of story: that Bridget herself is constantly on brink of utter failure and awful self-humiliation, yet takes risks nonetheless, laughs vigorously at self, puts energy into what she wants w/o (too much) worry about consequences. Is perfect metaphor for Zellweger's own appeal . . .

Ugh. Am noticing have fallen victim to pitfall of describing film as though were nothing but star performance. In terms of acting alone, are many other treats to be relished: Colin Firth dignified but refreshingly awkward (a positive thing) as love interest Mark Darcy, old pros Jim Broadbent and Gemma Jones ideal as Bridget's parents. Wish, as had feared, that friends Shazzer, Jude, and Tom had not been reduced to after-thoughts, but is preferable in some ways to Four Weddings predicament where supporting cast wholly outshone leading lady and major plotline. Speaking of Four Weddings, Hugh Grant delivers film's funniest performance as oily, mercenary, but disarmingly attractive boss Daniel Cleaver. Is gratifying to see Grant cast as much against type as Zellweger and with comparable rewards. Sneaking suspicion, confirmed by cast interviews, that Grant isn't really playing against type at all (Divine Brown, etc.), but is nonetheless fun to hear him utter such naughty come-ons and wink with such bare-faced narcissistic self-revelry.

Now, though, some complaints—inevitable, I guess, perhaps am inveterately unpleasable whiner-type person, but cannot help it, must embrace Inner Imperfections in same manner as Bridget. Anyway, as was saying. First, film continues impression that once-formidable Piano cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh has given over completely to most garish impulses, as color schemes in Bridget are almost as loud as in dreadful Runaway Bride. Second, fistfight between Firth and Grant characters, new addition from the novel, is utter betrayal of tone and character, and indeed, film never fully recovers balance. Last half-hour is surprisingly draggy roundelay of various characters running back and forth correcting earlier misunderstandings and emotional suppressions, only to create/encounter new ones, though last scene at least hits target perfectly.

Finally, early devices of transposing Bridget's diary-writing onto screen, either as overlaid subtitles or clever background incorporations (billboards, loudspeaker announcements, etc.) are engaging though uneven. Fact that film drops devices altogether is real disappointment, further proof that epistolary film is major challenge to cinema adaptations. Related problem is that characters no doubt described as worse than they "really" are in book—where diary context permits all manner of exaggeration, cruelty, ungenerosity, and caprice, leading very often to most hilarious moments—are presented in film as total stock figures from different universe than more flawed, better-nuanced major characters. Embeth Davidtz's Natasha in particular is horrible anti-careerist caricature, which not only makes character unbearable but makes film seem cruel and undercuts script's ambition to canonize Mark Darcy as deserving of Bridget—why on earth is he with humorless, finger-snapping, dictator-type Dragon Lady, if he is really so sweet and sound of judgment?

These are Bridget Jones's Diary's major problems, and no doubt there are smaller flaws one could mention if really wanted. Certainly watching modest, conservatively filmed, structurally awkward comedy is risky proposition after watching Moulin Rouge which, for better or worse (I think for better!), flaunts ambition by the mile and a frame-bursting exuberance that makes Bridget seem pallid and inauspicious. But Bridget the character is pallid and inauspicious, and whole point is that modest character is well-served by modest movie that nails central task of breathing life into page-creation in a way that welcomes ironic self-recognition and celebratory pleasure among various audiences. Any movie that can play well to an entire crowd of 12 can't be doing a whole lot wrong. Bridget Jones comes up aces where an endless line of putatively "charming," ostensibly "hilarious," allegedly "Everywoman" types played by plastic-surgeoned dizzy dames have all failed: we like Bridget, we really, really like her. Grade: B–

Academy Award Nominations:
Best Actress: Renée Zellweger

Golden Globe Nominations:
Best Picture (Musical/Comedy)
Best Actress (Musical/Comedy): Renée Zellweger

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