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'Bridget' Is Almost V. Good

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 13, 2001


    'Bridget Jones's Diary' Renee Zellweger and Hugh Grant have a go at it in "Bridget Jones's Diary." (Miramax)
How does one "critique" a movie like "Bridget Jones's Diary," which is essentially a call-to-arms (oops, male-centric term) for anyone who has been deserted or hurt in love, or anyone who has ever worried about their weight or feared that they're doomed to a life of loneliness or listened to Madonna (I just threw that in, for good measure) and read (and certainly loved) Helen Fielding's bestseller of the same name?

Well? Do you play accommodating Venusian or intolerant Martian? Do you honor the good-natured cultists who'd enjoy any adaptation of their beloved book? Or do you heed the appalled cries of the real cult, those purists who know the book like bearded scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls, who will be mortified to see a Yank playing a quintessential Brit, and who are likely to decry this adaptation (written by Fielding, Richard Curtis and Andrew Davies), which slims and trims the book down to Twiggy size?

Do you make fun of Renee Zellweger's "English" accent or pat her on the back for a good college try? I mean, it's almost English.

Or do you just say what you think? I like the latter.

As the new year begins, 32-year-old Bridget (Zellweger) resolves to change her life for the better. She's attractive, reasonably successful and alone. She decides to find a man and join her "smug-married" friends.

Almost immediately, she becomes the target of roguish manager Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), who seduces her with smooth talk on e-mail and a squeeze of the bum. But also lurking in the background – and not seeming too palatable at first – is the sullen, repressed Mark Darcy (Colin Firth).

He does good-guy things in his job. But he seems so humorless. And Daniel is so dapper, so confident. Anyone who's still wondering with whom she'll find true love and happiness should definitely watch this.

Okay, this movie wasn't my cup of tea or glass of Chardonnay. I've seen – and liked much better – all those English adorable-export films.

I clapped for "Four Weddings and a Funeral." I applauded "Notting Hill." And although I didn't dislike "Bridget Jones," I felt as if I was watching "One Wedding and a Funeral." Especially when the movie introduced me to Bridget's insufferably cheery friends, Shazza (Sally Phillips), Jude (Shirley Henderson) and Tom (James Callis), who seem to exist merely to be her support group. All three films have these wandering friends, who put on supportive dinners for their romantically beleaguered friend. And all three films were written by Curtis.

I can say, with enthusiasm, Zellweger is eminently likable in the part, whether she sounds English or not. I can also say that Grant makes a first-class cad. In a movie that seems to dangerously suggest that a woman's value is entirely wrapped up in the man she persuades to marry her, it's devilish relief to see Mr. Sorry About L.A. turning his trademark niceness into something completely scurrilous. He's clearly having a great time. Firth is a favorite of mine. What a pity, then, that he has to play a one-dimensional, repressed prig. You can see that there's more dimension to the actor than the role allows.

All in all, "Bridget Jones's Diary" comes as a great letdown, given all the anticipation that preceded its release. How can you celebrate a movie in which Zellweger doesn't soar but simply avoids disaster? I couldn't help thinking how much better this movie would have been if they'd made it 10 years ago, with Julie Walters in the lead. You'd not only get an internationally known star who can "do" British (after all, Darling, she is – you know?), you'd have a Bridget who could light up a whole movie.

"Bridget Jones's Diary" (R, 95 minutes) – Contains sexual scenes, very naughty words, overt sexual suggestion and a little bit of fisticuffs.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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