Bridget Jones\'s Diary (UK, USA, France 2001) *** 1/4
Directed by Sharon Maguire. Written by Helen Fielding, Andrew Davies and Richard Curtis, based on the novel by Ms. Fielding, Photography, Stuart Dryburgh. Editing, Martin Walsh. Production design, Gemma Jackson. Supervising art director, David Warren. Music, Patrick Doyle. Cast: Renée Zellweger (Bridget Jones), Colin Firth (Mark Darcy), Hugh Grant (Daniel Cleaver) and Gemma Jones (Bridget's Mum), Jim Broadbent (Bridget's Dad), Embeth Davidtz (Natasha) et al. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Jonathan Cavendish. A Universal Pictures/StudioCanal/Miramax film released by Miramax 94 minutes. R (language, sex sights and sounds)
The movie comes from Helen Fielding's runaway novel, and the book itself apparently came after a series of newspaper columns. Credit all of them. And give credit where it is due. 99.7 percent of audiences leave the theater while the final credits roll on. 5 percent may know who the film's director is. Just 0.3 percent can name the scriptwriters.
Ms. Fielding co-authored the movie script with two class AAA writers who are very active on TV. Andrew Davies did the highly praised Pride and Prejudice mini-series. The "legit" features he penned include Circle of Friends and the current The Tailor of Panama. Richard Curtis record includes immensely funny series: Blackadder, Mr. Bean, The Vicar of Dibley series. Sadly the last named is known to rather few viewers in the USA. In features, Curtis fully authored Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and the ho-hum Bean.
There was a time when Brigitte meant Brigitte Bardot, that major post-W.W.II symbol of sex in the movies. Our Bridget Jones is no object of male desire, however. She just turned 32 (practically the same age as Renee Zellweger) without having had significant other. And she's despondent. Bridget is nice looking but her sexual/amorous solitude is her very big problem. She has turned to useless compensations: :chain-smoking (but not a cough is heard --if the film only gave tobacco addicts her cigarettes' brand!); drinking a lot (but is definitely no lush); eating much more than necessary -- and by gourmet standards, terribly, as she can't cook. Bridget is overweight too. Not really fat but with excess poundage. For this role, Texas-born Renee Zellweger is said have gained 20 lbs. Yet, the wonderful way she performs still makes her cute. Bridget is no genius, no MENSA candidate, but is no dummy either.
In a kissing cousin of New Year's resolutions Bridget has finally decided to reform. She keeps a diary to record her daily weight, smokes and consumption of alcohol. Incidentally, she may record her brief reactions to miscellaneous males of the species.
The first man is barrister Mark Darcy, a long-time-no-see pal from early childhood. No luck. Colin Firth who played Mr. Darcy in TV's Pride and Prejudice has not kept the name by accident. There are several, often clever, affinities between the two Darcys. (And there's also a bit of Henry Fielding in writer Helen Fielding). In Monty Python terms "Darcy was played by a piece of wood." He is dour, a word too many Americans pronounce as "dower" instead of "door."
The second man (don't worry, Bridget stops at two) is Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) one of her bosses at the publishing company where Bridget does PR.. in a comically gauche way. Cleaver is a great name. It implies cleavage as well as separating people for womanizing purposes. Those are activities that the Hugh Grant character is most interested in. He and Bridget, both visible to each other through their offices' glass, start the shortest-distance dialogue on record e-mail dialogue, a teasing process that telegraphs an affair.
Daniel is a philandering Don Juan, and a cad of sorts. The affair blooms. It is arguably the best and most life-like performance Hugh Grant has ever given. He is third-billed in this movie, not for reasons of importance but because Darcy (who really doesn't do all that much) and Bridget are fated to a happy ending closure at the very last minute, the way the US. Cavalry rescue civilian wagon trains in westerns.
Foxy Daniel, when aware of Bridget's in-spite-of-all attraction for Darcy, lies to Bridget. And in one of the many in-jokes of the film, Colin Firth had starred as the rakish seducer in the eponymous film Valmont -- that most underrated movie by Milos Forman.
The picture is populated by minor and major British eccentrics of all sexes. What would theater, the cinema, as well as real life, do without those endearing oddballs? From Bridget's Mom to an amusing appearance by Salman Rushdie (at a new book publishing reception), to Bridget herself, and beyond. It is also beautifully edited. It also contains a large number of gags, jokes and funny situations. No doubt the skill of the writers, practiced in dozens of TV episodes, is one of the reasons. Generally critics gripe, for good reason, that TV's simplicity and facile procedures infect "real" movies. But here is a major exception as the TV-to-movies transition is for the best. Additionally, the movie, without getting off its track, manages to satirize much, such as TV commercials, TV news, authors, publicity, etc.
Renee Zellweger, with a loopiness that's different from, yet deep down somewhat related to, her Oscar-nominated Nurse Betty performance, is enchanting, has a superb sense of timing, is both self-deprecating but non-whiney, reserved and outspoken, and presents the funny-sad aspects of her part with much skill. She and the movie-at-large wisely refrain both from prettifying and un-prettifying Bridget. There was some major ruckus when American Renee was chosen for this British role, but it proved wrong. Her accent is ore than acceptable, as is her Brit persona. After all, Cary Grant was an American in many movies. To name one, in North by Northwest he was Roger O. Thornhill ("The O means nothing") and nobody worried.
If some people notice improbabilities (and there are several) in Bridget Jones's Diary they should keep in mind that this is not just a romantic comedy but a romantic farce-comedy-satire in which flexibility reigns. Sharon Maguire, its director is a documentarist whose first feature this is. It is a very good start.