Thursday, October 2, 2008


This delightfully funny British import from the guys who gave us "Four Weddings and a Funeral" (1994) combines the best elements of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" with the classic fairy tale favorite "Cinderella." Bestselling author Helen Fleming, who penned the phenomenal 1996 novel of the same name, wrote the screenplay with ex-boyfriend Richard ("Notting Hill") Curtis and Andrew (the BBC's "Pride and Prejudice") Davies. This saucy romantic chick flick with its unconventional heroine, clever slapstick farce, witty charismatic cast, predictable happy ending, and relentlessly self-depreciating British humor qualifies as the best chubby girl comedy since the 1966 ugly duckling English romp "Georgy Girl" headlining a plump Lynn Redgrave. Texas native Renee Zellweger of "Jerry Maguire" adopts a serviceable British accent and captures the klutzy charm of the eponymous 32-year old West London bachelorette torn between her womanizing boss Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant of "Mickey Blue Eyes") and divorced human rights barrister Mark Darcy (Colin Firth of "Shakespeare in Love"). As comparisons go, "Bridget Jones's Diary" (**** out of ****) resembles a funnier, more down-to-earth, big-screen version of TV's "Friends."

"Diary" chronicles our neurotic but sympathetic, size twelve, London office girl's year-long efforts to discover love and happiness. The vetty British soap operatic action opens one snowy Christmas. Bridget resolves to lose twenty pounds, to stop chain-smoking, to stop bingeing on chocolate, and to stop swilling Chardonnay at home alone while warbling the lyrics to Eric Carmen's "All By Myself." In an ironic voice over, poor Bridget muses, "Unless I changed my life, I was destined to die alone and be found three weeks later, half-eaten by Alsatians. Bridget sets about entering her current weight as well as cigarette and alcohol use in a daily diary. At the same time, she vows with mock conviction to find a "nice, sensible boyfriend to go out with" and refuses "to form romantic attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobic's, peeping Toms, megalomaniacs" and so forth. No sooner has Bridget made such pretentious pledges than she finds herself dating Daniel Cleaver and flirting with the scoundrel at the office via e-mail. Meanwhile, Bridget's well-meaning but intrusive parents introduce her to another eligible bachelor, Mark Darcy, at their Christmas party.

Bridget and Mark get off on the wrong foot. She overhears Mark call her a "verbally incontinent spinster." Later, Daniel reveals that Mark stole his previous girlfriend. Bridget's dislike for Mark mounts. The conflict reaches boiling point when both guys confront each other at a dinner party that Bridget has whipped up for her friends. Basically, she serves them blue soup. Suddenly, Daniel and Mark tie into each other with fists flying and wind up in the street for one of the funniest fights ever filmed. The highlight of the fisticuffs occurs when our combatants carry their slugfest into a restaurant and pause long enough to chime in for a chorus of "Happy Birthday" for a dinner guest! Happily, unlike "Four Weddings and a Funeral," nobody dies in "Bridget Jones's Diary." Nevertheless, scenarists Fielding, Curtis, and Davies maintain a commendable level of suspense throughout about Bridget's uncertain destiny.

Freshman director Sharon Maguire manages to keep everything light and flighty with an occasional poignant moment. For example, Bridget attends a "Tarts & Vicars" costume party dressed as a Playboy bunny, learning only too late that costumes were no longer required. Later, after she leaves Daniel and takes a job as an on-camera reporter for the TV show "Sit Up, Britain," she ends up exposing her buttocks to the camera when she slides down a firehouse pole! Basically, "Bridget Jones's Diary" features several embarrassing moments, one wedding and a marriage renewal. When Bridget cruises for the elusive Mr. Right, her parents (Gemma Jones of "Sense and Sensibility" and Jim Broadbent of "The Avengers") break up and her mom takes up with a TV shopping channel host. Lonely, single, average females without the heroin-chic, media-made looks of haughty Cosmopolitan cover girls searching for love in all the wrong places (might as well include their similarly distressed masculine counterparts) will applaud this helium light whimsy.

A truly outstanding cast breathes credibility into their characters. Zellweger steals every scene she has with her handsome English co-stars. Interestingly, Barbara Berkery, the dialogue coach who trained Gwyneth Paltrow for "Sliding Doors" and "Shakespeare in Love," guided Zellweger's miraculous vocal transformation from Texan to Londoner. Further, Zellweger pulled a Robert De Niro stunt and packed on 20 actual pounds to appear plump enough for the role. Finally, to prepare herself intellectually, she spent time working at the London publishing house Picador, so she could get a feel for Bridget's job. Clearly, on the basis of this kind of dedication to her acting, Zellweger deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Hugh Grant breaks new ground playing a convincingly leery-eyed, conniving cad, while Colin Firth maintains his dignity no matter how silly he appears in a clownish brawl with Grant or whatever outfit he wears, such as a reindeer sweater when Bridget and he meet for the first time. Mind you, it is no mistake that Firth won the role of Mark Darcy. Fielding has written complimentary remarks about Firth in her two "Bridget" novels and the in-joke is that Firth portrayed another Darcy in the acclaimed BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice." "Bridget Jones's Diary" proves a thousand times better than Renee Zellweger's earlier and abysmal "Nurse Betty."

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