Sunday 14 August 2016

Movie Review: Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)

A romantic comedy with edge and heart, Bridget Jones's Diary enjoys a ditzy protagonist navigating the choppy waters of relationships after 30.

In London, Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) is 32 years old, single and slightly overweight. She also enjoys cigarettes, a few too many drinks, and is getting very worried that she will never find a man to call her own. At a New Year's party her parents Colin and Pamela (Jim Broadbent and Gemma Jones) attempt to introduce her to divorced barrister Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), but the encounter ends disastrously. Bridget starts a diary and resolves to improve herself, find a man and never be lonely again. At the book publishing company where she works, Bridget has a huge crush on her handsome boss Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). They start to flirt, and soon embark on an intense relationship.

Just when her love life appears to take a hugely positive turn, Bridget is stunned to learn that her parents' marriage is in crisis. Meanwhile, at social events Bridget frequently bumps into Mark, who appears to be in a relationship with his work colleague Natasha (Embeth Davidtz). Matters are complicated when Bridget learns that Mark and Daniel were college classmates and have a troubled history. Bridget believes that Daniel may be her dream man and they enjoy a getaway vacation, but her hopes and dreams are about to be severely tested.

Directed by Sharon Maguire as an adaptation of the Helen Fielding book, Bridget Jones's Diary is a smart, funny and honest romantic comedy. Rude when it needs to be, sometimes hilarious and enlivened by Zelleweger's bright performance, the film rides the emotional ups and downs of a woman stuck between girly fantasies of what romance should be and the messy reality of adult relationships.

The film derives most its laughs from the personality of Bridget herself. Self conscious, self-deprecating, fully aware of her foibles but nevertheless outgoing and unafraid to crawl out onto the farthest limb, Bridget is both determined to improve and absolutely true to herself. When she gets into trouble, which is often, she owns the situation, never better than when caught in a playboy bunny outfit at a stiff uppercrust outdoor party.

The two men in her life are also nowhere near perfect, and that's just fine. Daniel offers sex, adventure and more sex, with a not so deep undercurrent of playboy dismissiveness. Mark is stiff, uncharismatic and potentially a crushing bore, seemingly wrapped around the finger of Natasha. At her age Bridget cannot afford to be picky and both men nevertheless appear to have much to offer, as she quickly progresses from having no suitors to occupying the key node of a romantic triangle.

Maguire surrounds Bridget with plenty of colourful supporting characters, including one snotty co-worker, one resident office pervert, two dotty parents, and three foul-mouthed friends. Meanwhile both Daniel and Mark have barracudas circling them, representing Bridget's competition. Of course, both the lawyer Natasha and Daniel's American counterpart Lara (Lisa Barbuscia) are everything that Bridget is not, including thin, confident and flying high in their careers.

Renée Zellweger overcomes the obstacle of an American playing a prototypical English woman with ridiculous ease and makes the role her own. Bridget requires a delicate mix of self-pity, and blissfully ignorant audacity with the occasional foray into unabashed flirtation and Zellweger hits all the right notes. Colin Firth and Hugh Grant are dependable, playing close to their most comfortable screen personas, and enjoy a rollicking, perfectly timed fist fight.

In the search for love, Bridget Jones' Diary offers a sparkling how-not-to guide, full of horrifyingly funny revelations and authentic wit.

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