Bridget Jones' Diary (United Kingdom/United States, 2001)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Bridget Jones's Diary is, quite simply, the finest motion picture released by Miramax Films since 1999's The Cider House Rules. Based on the novel by Helen Fielding, the screenplay for Bridget Jones's Diary (written by Four Weddings and a Funeral scribe Richard Curtis) successfully adapts the book into an easily-manageable 90 minute chunk while retaining much of the humor and remaining faithful to the tone. Bridget Jones's Diary is smart, sassy, and thoroughly enjoyable, and features one of the most endearing and believable characters to grace the screen this year.

The film tells the story of a year in the life of an average, single, thirty-something British woman, who, armed with only her wits and charm (and a diary), goes in search of the ever-elusive Mr. Right. Unlucky-in-love Bridget (Renee Zellweger) has two candidates: the fun and sexy Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) and the dour Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), whom she overhears calling her a "verbally incontinent spinster" when they first meet at a party. Not surprisingly, she goes for Daniel, but he turns out to be a less-than-perfect catch. Then, just when her interest in Mark begins to emerge (following his statement that he likes her just as she is), he hooks up with man-eating lawyer Natasha (Embeth Davidtz), who is determined to marry him. Meanwhile, her parents' marriage is on the rocks and she embarks upon a career in television news. (The line that gets her the position: "I got fired from my last job for sleeping with my boss.")

In England, the casting of American Renee Zellweger was initially greeted with much resistance by the press and the public. It was argued that not only was Zellweger an American, but she was too skinny to play the chubby Bridget. Well, some time between casting and shooting, Zellweger put on a few pounds (she's pleasingly plump - not fat by any means, but certainly of Kate Winslet proportions) and worked hard to perfect a British accent (there are a few slips, but they're mercifully rare). These qualities, coupled with her natural charm and screen presence, make her a flawless choice for the lead. Not since her breakthrough roles in The Whole Wide World and Jerry Maguire has she given a performance of this all-around quality. Zellweger embodies Bridget, and is a huge reason why the movie works.

Those who have read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice will find some familiar characters and elements in Bridget Jones's Diary. It doesn't take much deduction to determine that Helen Fielding is an Austen admirer, and that all of the nods to Pride and Prejudice are intentional. While it would be unfair to call Bridget Jones's Diary a 20th-century re-interpretation of Pride and Prejudice, there are some parallels - at least one of which the filmmakers have decided to emphasize.

The casting of Colin Firth as Mark Darcy is inspired. Firth, who essayed Mr. Darcy in the hugely popular 1995 BBC/A&E television production of Pride and Prejudice, plays this part exactly as he played the earlier role, making it evident that the two Darcys are essentially the same. He's a repressed snob who gradually, unwillingly finds himself falling for the least suitable woman around him - Bridget (who, upon closer examination, bears a passing resemblance to Elizabeth Bennet). Hugh Grant brings all the charm he can muster to the oily role of Daniel - a man who enhances his chances with Bridget by telling a lie about Mark. Like Austen's Wickham, this guy is too good to believe, and proceeds to prove our suspicions correct. Grant, who, like Firth, has appeared in an Austen adaptation (Sense and Sensibility), is at home in the role. Strong supporting performances are given by Jim Broadbent and Gemma Jones as Bridget's parents.

Bridget Jones's Diary is filled with moments of truth and flashes of humor (sometimes the two are the same). The direction, by newcomer Sharon Maguire, shows the deftness of a veteran. The energy level is consistently high and the characters (especially Bridget) don't take long to endear themselves to the audience. The result is worthy of exultation, especially in the bleakness of the winter/spring cinematic landscape. I smiled at the biting one-liners, laughed at both the subtle and the overt comedic aspects, and nodded my head in sympathy with Bridget's all-too-familiar plight - and I'm a male. Imagine the female reaction. Congratulations to all involved. Bridget Jones's Diary is a triumph.

Bridget Jones' Diary (United Kingdom/United States, 2001)

Ranked #8 in Berardinelli's Top 10 of 2001
Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2001-04-13
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Situations, Profanity,Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1