Rated R - Running Time: 1:37 - Released 4/13/01

As romantic comedies go, Bridget Jones's Diary is in many ways unconventional. It stars American actress Renée Zellweger as a single British woman in her 30's who works at a publishing house in London, looking for love among the humdrum prospects in her life, namely Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. Zellweger, who apparently gained over 20 pounds for the role, is not classically beautiful like Gwyneth Paltrow, she's not spunky like Minnie Driver, and she's not glamorous like Julia Roberts; she's decidedly plain, lumpy, and tongue-tied, which is exactly what she and first-time director Sharon Maguire are going for. Bridget Jones is a woman who has to grow on you; a real woman, who smokes, drinks, and talks too much, and on the occasion of her 32nd birthday, as is prescribed by the story, decides to start telling the truth. To her diary, that is.

Tired of her mother (Gemma Jones) trying to fix her up with a lawyer and former neighbor named Mark Darcy (Firth) at holiday parties, Bridget engages in a friendly flirtation with her dashing boss, Daniel Cleaver (Grant), which develops into full-blown romance. Daniel, who seems sexist and somewhat boorish, is nonetheless a lot of fun, but they keep running into the dour and humorless Mark, with whom Daniel has an ongoing grudge match because of some dark incident in their past. Soon Daniel proves to be less than what he first seemed, and Mark begins to spark Bridget's interest. Eventually, she is in the position of having to choose between the two.

Bridget Jones's Diary is written by Richard Curtis and Andrew Davies, based on the novel by Helen Fielding; it bears several resemblances to (and borrows several actors from) Jane Austen's novel Pride & Prejudice and the recent A&E movie adaptation of it. While Zellweger is earthy and believable (sporting a phony but authentic-sounding British accent, no less), she's not terribly attractive, either from a physical or emotional standpoint. Ironically, her podgy, lonely Bridget seems most charming when she's alone (especially in a brilliant scene where she sings along to Celine Dion's recent cover of Eric Carmen's "All By Myself"). Likewise, her male counterparts leave much to be desired. Grant and Firth both give adequate performances, but the trouble is, neither Daniel nor Mark is an especially likable character. While Bridget spent her time wondering which guy was Mr. Right, I kept thinking, is there a third choice?

Although director Maguire is successful in crafting believable characters for her triangle, she may have succeeded a little too well; the proceedings have a cold, sterile feel that ever so slightly contradicts the film's romantic aim. Zellweger shows her usual talent, but what she's being directed to do is in a way counter-productive. On the other hand, Maguire must be commended for trying something different in an industry where old, tired formula rules the day, and Zellweger is charming even if her character...isn't. ****

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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