Taking a ride with a neurotic, seemingly alcoholic, 30-something single woman normally would elicit a gun-in-mouth cinematic experience. There seems to be a new entry every month in this "we hate men" movie genre. What "Bridget Jones's Diary" (IMDb listing) has in its favor is laughs. Lots of them. "Diary" has a great big heart and accomplishes a high wire feat of balancing drama and comedy with an ease many other films of this pedigree are unable to do. Anchored by an attentive lead performance by Renee Zellweger, "Bridget Jones's Diary" should please fans of Helen Fielding's triumphant novel (adapted here by the writer of "Notting Hill"), and win over a whole new cult of Bridget Jones followers.
Scouring the English singles scene for one decent man, Bridget Jones (Zellweger) passes her time with large amounts of nicotine and liquor, and works at a successful publishing house. Surrounded by her loving friends and her bickering parents, Jones longs for love, and if she can't get that, then one great shag will do. Entering into an affair with her boss (Hugh Grant), Jones also comes in contact with a long lost acquaintance (Colin Firth) whom she cannot seem to figure out. While both men compete for her affection, Bridget begins to learn to control her impulses and must decide what is best for her heart.
In her debut as a director, Sharon Maguire delivers a rollicking good time with "Bridget Jones's Diary." It's a comical story with sad, melancholy aspects that accentuate its more honest side in detailing relationships. In fact, coming so soon after the Ashley Judd vehicle "Someone Like You," "Diary's" tale of love and woe seems especially warmed over. To her credit, Maguire keeps the film trucking along with balanced portions of light drama, bawdy comedy, and a great big silly heart. While in the end the film falls prey to manufactured delights and emotions, the overall effect of "Diary" is more euphoric than manipulative.
It's a tricky role for Zellweger. With the literary, English, and Weight Watchers worlds watching closely, expecting failure, Zellweger defies all the odds and makes the elusive Bridget Jones character all her own. Apple-cheeked and with a newly discovered ability to channel humility with ease, Zellweger carries "Diary" with a grace and charm that acts as an adhesive for all the other elements to cling to.
The accent isn't hers, and the extra pounds seems to make her uncomfortable, yet Zellweger never breaks character. A goofy, lovable "spinster" with a hunger for cigarettes and a penchant for too much alcohol, Bridget Jones is a tricky character simply because she isn't stupid. I can only assume many other actresses would play Bridget that way. Zellweger is smart enough to explore Jones's bad life choices, but she never makes Bridget a victim of her decisions. "Bridget Jones's Diary" celebrates the joy and anxieties of single-womanhood through deliriously funny vignettes and some realistic heartbreak. Zellweger shows without a doubt that she can carry a film without anyone's help.
But there is help. A supporting cast of top British talent (Jim Broadbent, Gemma Jones and former Bond girl Honor Blackman) is on hand to fill out the fringe characters of Bridget's world. Hugh Grant and Colin Firth portray the two men battling to be loved by Bridget. I could give or take Firth's stiff upper lip performance. It seems any actor could give the character the same dimensions that Firth brings to the table, and with less effort. Grant, on the other hand, seems to be relishing an opportunity to play up his off-screen hunk persona. He's the male pig of the picture, and Grant's fun with the role is infectious.
The whole film is contagious. A wonderful diversion from all the relationship movies of the past months, "Bridget Jones's Diary" is a more honest look at the game of love. It's a great time at the movies.
Filmfodder Grade: A-