Worth A Look: 44.07%
Pretty Bad: 6.78%
Total Crap: 5.65%
9 reviews, 123 user ratings
|Bridget Jones's Diary
by Andrew Howe
When the editors of glossy magazines discover that the latest issue contains less words than it has pages, it’s a sure bet that you’ll wind up reading one of those deep and meaningful quizzes that staffers like to scribble on cocktail napkins during happy hour. If the topic at hand was “Bridget Jones’s Diary – Written in Your Soul?”, I imagine it would look something like this:“Have you ever:
"A ray of light in the midnight hour."
(a) Belted out the words to Everybody Hurts or How Soon is Now? while sucking on a bottle of Jack Daniels with a passion usually reserved for a baby at its mother’s teat?
(b) Endured polite enquiries about the state of your love life from a couple of smarmy newlyweds while fantasising about wiping the smiles off their faces with 30 rounds from an AK-47?
(c) Attended a function that features the words ‘singles’ and ’18 to 35’ in its title, ‘just for a laugh’?
(d) Entertained visions of spending your twilight years alone and unloved, with nothing to keep you company but the spectre of the grave?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, you may trade your youthful optimism for bitter cynicism at your earliest convenience. Everyone else has our permission to enjoy a quiet moment of smug self-assurance, but don’t forget that we’ll be seeing you again on the way down.”
I’d like to say that I’d score a flat zero, but lies are best left to those with political aspirations. We can line the pockets of all the Cosmopolitan journalists and self-help gurus we like, but at the end of the day the call of the herd will wake us from our fitful rest, and at 3.00 a.m. on a cold winter’s morning the life of the loner is rarely as romantic as James Dean’s biographers would have you believe.
When it gets to the point where you’d rather attend a funeral than a wedding, you’re left with three options – purchase a one-way ticket to Desolation Row, retire to the woods to write a follow-up to Walden, or learn to laugh at your misfortune (which is rarely as much fun as laughing at someone else’s misfortune, but at least you won’t have to cop to it in the confession box). If the third option is your drug of choice, Helen Fielding is here to help: her script for Bridget Jones’s Diary is as sharp as a headsman’s axe, and if it cuts a little close to the bone then it’s a small price to pay for ninety of the most entertaining minutes you’ll experience all year.
Based on the best-selling novel of the same name (with adaptation duties shared by Fielding, Richard Curtis and Andrew Davies), Bridget Jones’s Diary is concerned with nothing more than a year in the life of the title character. Bridget (Renee Zellweger) is a single white female in her early thirties, and while her life is by no means inspiring, things could be considerably worse. She’s got a steady job, several close friends, and a roof over her head, but her inability to hold down a fulfilling relationship wreaks havoc on her peace of mind. The film accompanies Bridget on her quest for the elusive Mr. Right, and if it doesn’t take her anywhere particularly original it’s difficult to complain when the company is this engaging.
The film’s success is built upon Bridget’s appealing personality: her faults and foibles are endearing, for they remind us that we are never alone in our failings, making her the antithesis of every self-assured “hero” whose manufactured flawlessness leaves us grappling with our own imperfections. Her ambitions are undermined by a surfeit of stuff-ups, ill-advised comments, and a penchant for gratifying her base needs regardless of the cost, but she’s a decent person at heart, and her refusal to crumble under the weight of rejection and failure sets her above the kind of self-pitying losers who populate many “serious” relationship-oriented films (start with Wonderland and work your way up). Her attitude isn’t entirely hopeful, but it’s never grim or bitter, making her a suitable role-model for the disenchanted.
It would have all been for nothing, however, if Zellweger wasn’t up to the task. Her performance in Jerry Maguire proved that she’s a natural at playing self-sufficient but impressionable young women, and her experience stands her in good stead for the job at hand. Wielding a faultless British accent (the product of extensive vocal training) and the extra bulk she piled on for the role (the product of several tonnes of donuts), she turns in a disarming performance, overlaying Bridget’s actions with an aura of good-natured self-deprecation (the script gives her a hand, but it’s largely down to her note-perfect facial expressions and memorable vocal delivery, not to mention a smile which could melt an Arctic glacier). In one of the opening scenes we watch her nervous good humour give way to a crestfallen expression of self-doubt, and in that single pivotal moment she wins us over for the duration.
The required conflict is provided by Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), a charming, philandering cad, and childhood associate Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), a straight-laced lawyer who initially views Bridget with a distaste usually reserved for something you scrape off your shoe. Both are well-cast – Grant seems more at ease now that he’s ditched the mantle of the Next Big Thing, turning in a likeable performance which ensures his character is never entirely unsympathetic (it’s difficult not to be moved by his obviously heartfelt attempts to make amends late in the piece), while Firth excels at playing that beloved stereotype, the emotionally-stunted British male. My only reservation is that Firth never entirely convinces us that a warm heart beats beneath his well-tailored suit, though to be fair he’s provided with little opportunity to do so.
The film moves at a cracking pace, cramming a pleasing amount of activity into its relatively brief duration. Bridget’s diary entries and other sundry musings are communicated via voiceovers, which accelerate the narrative and enhance our ability to identify with her plight, but the extensive interplay between the characters prevents it from becoming a drawn-out interior monologue. The plot holds few surprises (Fielding has never attempted to hide its similarity to Pride and Prejudice), but straying too far from the beaten track would have worked against the film’s status as a well-realised slice-of-life.
The comedic element is rooted in everyday situations, and most of the time it’s pleasantly restrained. Certain scenes (Bridget trying her hand at karaoke at an office party, and the family Christmas gathering from hell) border on brilliance, and the film exhibits sufficient universal appeal that you don’t have to be able to identify with the situations or characters to succumb to its charms.
Apart from the occasional detour into uninspired physical comedy, the film’s only significant failing is that the final fifteen minutes take a leave of absence from the believable events that comprise the bulk of the running time, and a single act of misty-eyed wish-fulfilment undermines Bridget’s status as a paragon of understated heroism (the message seems to be that if you stay true to yourself, a knight in shining armour will ride in to relieve you of the need to do so). However, Fielding would have been lynched if she’d scripted the kind of downbeat ending that I would have preferred (cantankerous old sod that I am), so for the majority of moviegoers the film’s metamorphosis into a feel-good anthem is unlikely to trigger any ill-will.Bridget Jones’s Diary partners an incisive script with a capable cast, and the result is a hugely enjoyable film which will appeal to broken-hearted cynics and hopeless romantics alike. It’s the perfect tonic for anyone who’s grown weary of comedies which have nothing to offer but loud and empty punch lines: it creeps up on you from behind, and once it gets under your skin it won’t be long before it works its way into your heart.
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originally posted: 07/18/01 09:02:47