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BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent
Director: Sharon Maguire
Audio: Dolby Digital Surround 5.1, French Surround 2.0
Subtitles: English
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Miramax
Features: Director commentary, behind-the-scenes featurette, two music videos, original Bridget Jones columns, deleted scenes
Length: 98 minutes
Release Date: October 9, 2001

"You seem to go out of your way to make me feel like a complete idiot every time I see you, and you really needn't bother; I already feel like an idiot most of the time anyway."

Film ***

Poor Bridget Jones!

At first glance, Bridget seems a most peculiar young lady around whom to construct a romantic tale.  For one thing, she is the very antithesis of glamour.  Bridget is a tad on the frumpy side, with a decidedly lackluster sense of fashion.  Her weight oscillates around the unmentionably-highs.  She is an appallingly poor public speaker.  She sings like a strangled cat.  As a cook, she barely achieves blue soup and marmalade omelettes with any degree of sincerity.  And though she endeavors to present a cheerful face, somewhere underneath her outwardly brave persona, we sense that she is lonely.

Bridget, you see, is a single woman in her early thirties.  She is at that sensitive age when most of her friends have married, and her parents, with their not-very-subtle aspirations of becoming grandparents, have started to become meddling nuisances.  They hope, improbably as all parents do, that marriage for their single daughter is not far off.  In other words, Bridget Jones's Diary, which chronicles Bridget's woes, is just the sort of film to which single young women, with resigned smiles, might relate.

In Bridget Jones's Diary, Bridget is warm and kind and is able to laugh at her misfortunes.  She is far from perfect, but her faults make her a real person, not the plastic Barbie of typical Hollywood romantic comedies.  The original Bridget Jones was the heroine of a popular British newspaper column which routinely chronicled her daily insecurities, her desires, and her successes and failures.  The column, written in the style of diary entries, rapidly became quite popular particularly among young British women who embraced Bridget Jones the way young professional women in America relate to Cathy Guisewite's Cathy cartoons.

When a film adaptation of the Bridget Jones column was first announced, there was widespread speculation over who would play the endearing female pop icon.  The role of Bridget's slippery-slimy boss, Daniel Cleaver, would naturally go to Hugh Grant, a perennial presence in British comedies nowadays (although he is hilariously cast against type this go-around).  Colin Firth would occupy the role of Bridget's other love interest, a dull barrister.  However, who would play Bridget Jones?  The search for the right actress was a long and exhaustive one that finally concluded with....a diminutive, skinny American actress with a Texan accent and a frankly weird name - Renée Zellweger.  She was hardly the sort of actress indignant Britons envisioned portraying their beloved Bridget!

So, Renée Zellweger, after winning the prized role, had to muddle through a rather uphill battle for public approval.  But in the end, she gave her heart to her performance and proved that she was indeed right for the role, even famously putting on several dozen pounds for the sake of her craft to portray the overweight Bridget Jones.

Bridget Jones's Diary may use the popular British column as a source of inspiration, but it is really a liberal adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.  One need look no further for proof than the casting of Colin Firth as Mark Darcy, one of Bridget's love interests.  For anyone not in the know, Firth also played a Fitzwilliam Darcy in the acclaimed 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice!  So there you are.  Hence, anyone vaguely familiar with the Jane Austen novel will already know the general storyline to Bridget Jones's Diary.

As the film commences, Bridget Jones, having returned from yet another disastrous New Year's Party, has resolved to change her life.  She begins a diary to chronicle her resolution to shed some pounds, to quit drinking, and to find a decent man to marry.

Could Daniel Cleaver be just such a man?  Daniel is Bridget's boss and editor-in-chief at her publishing company.  However, he is a bad bad boy, and his introduction is one of the film's comic highlights.  Immediately after Bridget has listed all the things she hates most in a man and which are so completely embodied in Daniel, the film switches to a shot of the smirking Daniel as elevator doors open, the soundtrack blaring away to Aretha Franklin's Respect ("What you want, baby I got it...").  Truly classic!

Of course, Bridget naturally finds herself strangely attracted to this slimy, two-legged reptile (why oh why do women always fall for bad boys and never the nice ones?).

Mark Darcy is one of the nice ones, although he's a bit of a cold fish at first.  He also doesn't think so highly of Bridget after their initial encounter, whom he likens to "a verbally incontinent spinster who smokes like a chimney, drinks like a fish, and dresses like her mother."  Ah, such charity, but he'll change his mind soon enough!  Anyway, apparently some long-standing animosity exists between Daniel and Mark, and the nature of this mutual distaste will become more apparent as the film progresses.  It also serves to confuse Bridget even more while she tries to decide which man is better for her.  Will Bridget go for the rascally and uncommitted cad, Daniel, or will she choose the stiff and dull Mark?  Or, perhaps should she just take off for a vacation in Paris with her equally eccentric friends?

All three lead actors are very good in this film.  Renée Zellweger is quite a riot as Bridget, and it's easy to see why she earned an Oscar nomination for her performance.  Every time Bridget commits a social faux pas, whether it's mutilating karaoke songs or crashing her derrière into a live TV camera, we laugh at her woes yet we also love her all the more for them.  Hugh Grant has an uproariously good time as the roguish Daniel.  And Colin Firth is very funny in that British dry humor sort of way.  Excellent as Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, Firth is still very good as Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones's Diary, too, despite his relative lack of screen time.

In any regard, viewers familiar with the Jane Austen novel should be able to foresee who Bridget ultimately picks and for what reason, too, but not before watching Bridget bounce back and forth like a ping-pong ball between her two prospective suitors.  It all makes for a lot of light-hearted fun!

Video *** 1/2

Bridget Jones's Diary is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format.  The colors are bright and cheerful, and the picture is generally sharp with good details.  There is a bit of dust at the beginning of the film but otherwise this is a fine transfer.

Audio *** 1/2

Bridget Jones's Diary sports a 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track, with an optional 2.0 French track.  Most of the dialogue and sounds are mixed to the front speakers, although the surrounds do get occasional usage.  This being a romantic comedy, the sub-woofer does not get much of a vigorous work-out except in a few of the song excerpts on the soundtrack.  All in all, this is a pleasant enough audio.

Features ***

I like the Doris Day-flavored menus for this disc!  They have a light, breezy quality to them that is perfectly in sync with the comic tone of the film itself.  Happily, there is a motley collection of extra features on this disc.  First of all, for anyone unfamiliar with Helen Fielding's popular Bridget Jones columns, a few excerpts have been reproduced for the DVD.  They are funny and reflect the witty and sarcastic humor that has transformed Bridget into England's pop culture darling.

As for the film itself, director Sharon Maguire offers a feature-length commentary track.  Also available are seven deleted scenes.  For the most part, they are actually quite good, and considering the film's relatively short length, needn't have been removed from the theatrical cut.  Nevertheless, here they are for the viewer's perusal.

The "Behind-the-scenes" featurette (9 min.) is as one would expect - a montage of interview clips, scenes from the film, and videos of the actual production.  However, true to the spirit of the film, this featurette possesses a wry, tongue-in-cheek humor that makes it a blast to watch!

The DVD contains two music videos.  The first one is "Killin' Kind," by Shelby Lynne.  I could have sworn that she was a country music star, but she gets a seductive pop tart-makeover here.  The second video is "Out of Reach," a love ballad sung by Gabrielle.  I could have sworn that she was a hip hop singer!  This DVD is certainly all about casting against type, isn't it?

Lastly, there is an extensive sneak peek section with seven entries.  One is for the Bridget Jones soundtrack, which coyly concludes on a funny clip of Bridget Jones singing atrociously (don't worry, she's mercifully not included on the actual soundtrack CD).  Another entry is a brief series of short clips from various noteworthy Miramax films.  The remaining selections are assorted trailers for Shake Rattle and Rock (also starring Renée Zellweger), Chocolat (with Juliette Binoche), About Adam (with Kate Hudson), Robert Louis Stevenson's St. Ives (with English cutie Anna Friel), and Blow Dry (with Rachel Leigh Cook).  If you have not already guessed as much, these films are all romantic comedies.

Summary:

Bridget Jones's Diary is a British comedy which despite its occasionally colloquial humor should appeal strongly to movie fans looking for feathery-light, cheerful fun.  The film truly belongs to Renée Zellweger, who delivers a charming breakthrough performance.