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'Bridget Jones's Diary'

Renee Zellweger excels in a 'Diary' streamlined for Hollywood

Friday, April 13, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Wednesday, 4 April
100-odd lbs. (post-winter weight, counting days till can shed constricting pantyhose), alcohol units 0 (on company time and must keep wits about self during movie), unbuttered popcorn and Coke (child-size, perfect way to save calories and money but feel funny about free toy on cardboard tray), Hershey's Kisses in purse in event of emergency 3, cigarettes 0, times navigating stairs at Loews Waterfront 4.

'Bridget Jones's Diary'

RATING: R for language and some strong sexuality

STARRING: Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth

DIRECTOR: Sharon Maguire

WEB SITE: entertainment



That's me, but if you've read "Bridget Jones's Diary" you will recognize Helen Fielding's style of chronicling her hapless heroine's every morsel of food, ounce of alcohol, cigarette, lottery ticket purchase and obsessive thought. The novelist coined or brought into wide circulation such terms as Singleton and Smug Marrieds and used abbreviations such as v.g. for very good.

I wish I could say the movie "Bridget Jones's Diary" is v.v.g. but it's just g. and lucky to be blessed with an attractive cast. As with "Someone Like You," people who read the book may be disappointed by the adaptation. As a romantic comedy, it stands on its own but it loses that always-open window into Bridget's brain. The voiceover handles a bit of that and her neurotic diary entries even turn up on an electronic scoreboard once or twice, but it's not the same.

The movie stars Renee Zellweger as Bridget, a 32-year-old Londoner who is single, works for a publishing house, lives by herself and worries she will die alone and be half-eaten by dogs. Don't we all?

The story opens with a holiday party where Bridget has one of her many disastrous encounters with a divorced attorney, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). He is not amused as Bridget natters on about her hangover, cigarette habit and New Year's resolutions. While she is still within earshot, he insults her, sending her into a round of watching "Frasier," smoking, drinking wine and singing along to "All By Myself" all by herself.

Her love life takes a definite turn for the better when her handsome boss, office scoundrel Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), begins an e-mail flirtation that evolves into an actual affair. Bridget is ecstatic, finally able to report to all those nosy relatives asking "How's your love life?" that she has one.

That's just about the time that her married mother (Gemma Jones) begins acting like a Singleton. And then Daniel proves he was too good to be true. Before the final music swells, she encounters Mark and Daniel and her diary again and has to figure out what and who she really wants.

When word came down about the casting, Britons groused that an American -- a Texas native, no less -- would be playing the British bird. But Zellweger has mastered the accent and after the initial shock, you generally forget she's faking it.

"Nurse Betty" star Zellweger, best known for "Jerry Maguire" and "Me, Myself & Irene," gained 20 pounds for the role. She lost the excess weight, as her lemon-colored gown on Oscar night attested.

Where Zellweger excels, however, is in conveying Bridget's vulnerability, awkwardness and ability to almost always -- unwittingly -- say or do the wrong thing. She has a softness and sweetness about her, not to mention real-woman thighs (the product of a diet of pizza, peanut butter sandwiches, cheese omelets, buttered bagels and chocolate milkshakes) that allow the audience to identify with her.

Grant, who has declared he is tired of playing nice guys, makes a very cheeky cad. It's good to see him toss off the bachelor bon mots and be the heartbreaker instead of the heartbroken, as he was in "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Notting Hill" until those happy endings. He is an example of a perfect bit of casting -- he matches the book's description of someone who can have a "wicked dissolute air" while being very successful and clever.

Which leads to Firth as Mark Darcy, a character named after Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice," a role the actor actually played in a TV miniseries. It seems to take 70 minutes for him to really smile and until that moment, he seems rather unlikable and stiff and certainly no competition for Hugh Grant. This isn't supposed to be love at first sight, but Darcy remains aloof for too long. Bridget's friends also get short shrift; in a movie that is just over 90 minutes, there's not room for them.

In that regard, "Bridget" has been overly streamlined. Fielding is listed as one of three screenwriters, along with Richard Curtis ("Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill") and Andrew Davies (the BBC's "Pride and Prejudice" starring Firth). Toss in a first-time feature director, Sharon Maguire, and you wonder if everyone had a slightly different vision of the end product. If I were Fielding, I would be mourning the loss of many clever throwaway lines and full-bodied supporting characters.

"Bridget Jones's Diary" is no "Notting Hill," but it's funny, insightful, benefits from a couple of quirky cameos and is a step up from "Someone Like You," even if both movies share one woman and two suitors, loads of self-doubt, eerily similar endings, soundtracks with the usual suspects and the song "Someone Like You."

How v.v. odd.

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