Okay guys... if it hasn't already happened, you will probably soon be dragged to see "Bridget Jones's Diary" by your wife, girlfriend, or significant. Covering a year of ups and downs of a slightly overweight and single 30ish career woman in London, this 'chick flick' is based on the best-selling Helen Fielding novel, and brought to the big screen by the producing team responsible for "Notting Hill" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral". But before you feign illness or try to think of some lame excuse to get out of seeing this film, let me assure you that "Bridget Jones's Diary" is no ordinary 'chick flick'. Instead, it is a good 'chick flick', one with a story that anyone can relate to, whether male or female, because we've all probably been down that very same road at one time or another.
Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger of "Nurse Betty") is a 31-year old 'verbally incontinent spinster' who spends her days as a lowly administrative assistant in a publishing house, and her nights sitting alone in front of the television. She is constantly on the lookout for Mr. Right, and as a means to that goal, she has vowed to stop 'eating too much, drinking too much, and smoking too much'. To that end, Bridget starts keeping a diary, where she religiously monitors her weight, alcohol intake, and smoking, as well as makes witty commentary on the daily events in her life.
Her search for true love eventually turns up two markedly different prospects. One is her dashing and handsome boss Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant of "Notting Hill"), whom Bridget begins flirting with using MSN Messenger, and the other is the quiet and bored-looking Mark Darcy (Colin Firth of "Shakespeare in Love"), a barrister whom Bridget meets at her mother's annual 'turkey curry buffet'. The only problem is that both potential suitors turn out to be less-than-ideal prospects: Daniel ends up being a non-committal cad, while Mark seems destined to marry a fellow lawyer named Natasha (Embeth Davitz of "Army of Darkness"). To add further stress to Bridget's life, it seems that the long-standing marriage of her parents (Jim Broadbent of "The Avengers" and Gemma Jones of "Sense & Sensibility") is teetering on the brink of collapse.
If you have ever seen "Ally McBeal", particularly the pilot episode, you will have a pretty good idea of the pace and tone of "Bridget Jones's Diary". As events unfold during the year, Bridget is always on hand to supply some clever commentary, from her caustic cynicism at her mother's attempts to set her up with Mark, to her boundless optimism at the first hint of blossoming love, to her spiteful cognizance in the throes of disappointment. Like Ms. McBeal, Bridget's mouth is often quicker than her brain, and she has a tendency to use her overactive imagination, two qualities that land her in a number of embarrassing situations. However, there is one main difference between "Bridget Jones's Diary" and "Ally McBeal"--"Bridget Jones's Diary" is much funnier and heartfelt.
Though I have never read the "Bridget Jones's Diary", from what I understand, it is a modern-day take off on "Pride & Prejudice", something that could have been written by Jane Austen had she lived in these modern times. With its witty commentary on both office politics and the single life from the perspective of the average woman, it quickly became an anthem for the overworked and overlooked. Not surprisingly, there was much noise made by the book's devoted fans when it was announced that a rail-thin blonde American, Renée Zellweger, would be cast as the titular character, which seemed to go against everything that the book stood for.
To her credit, Zellweger not only pulls it off, but she pulls it off admirably. Not only did Zellweger adopt a nearly flawless British accent, but she gained at least 20 pounds to better fill Bridget's shoes. Since her breakthrough in 1997's "Jerry Maguire", Zellweger has more-or-less progressed towards more challenging roles over the years. Zellweger outdoes herself, even when compared to the superb work she did in "One True Thing" and last year's "Nurse Betty", turning in the best performance of her career to date. With her effortless charm and gift for comic timing, not only does she handle the physical requirements of playing the British spinster, but she also breathes life into the character, becoming the glue that steadfastly holds the film together. This is readily apparent in the film's title sequence, where Bridget, alone in her apartment during the Christmas holidays, passionately sings to "All By Myself" playing on her stereo-- though the scene is rather funny, Zellweger also makes it a poignant illustration of her character's sorrowful isolation.
Supporting Zellweger's outstanding turn are Colin Firth and Hugh Grant. Firth, a veteran of Jane Austen adaptations (he appeared in the 1995 BBC production of "Pride and Prejudice", interestingly enough, as Mr. Darcy), is well suited as the uptight and somewhat snobbish Darcy whose defenses are gradually weakened by Bridget's charms. Grant, who is usually relegated to playing more conservative characters, lets loose as the strutting peacock who brings Bridget only heartache and regret. Adding some additional color to the film are Sally Phillips, Shirley Henderson ("Trainspotting"), and James Callis as Bridget's outspoken friends, who are second to Bridget in getting some of the best lines in the film. And for the literati in the audience, yes, those are authors Salman Rushdie and Jeffrey Archer that appear in the book release scene.
The last few weeks have been a treasure-trove of excellent films ("Memento", "Series 7: The Contenders", and "The Dish", just to mention a few), and "Bridget Jones's Diary" is no exception. Zellweger excels as the film's determined heroine and she is ably-supported by a talented cast in an amusing and well-paced production that I will be hard-pressed not to include in my top ten list of 2001. You go, girl!