In general, my response to “Ally McBeal” has always been something like, “PHFFFFFFFFFFFTHT!” England’s response is apparently “Bridget Jones’ Diary”. The title character of Helen Fielding’s novel first came to public awareness serialized in the author’s newspaper column. Today she is considered an icon, at least in the United Kingdom.
Bridget (Renee Zellweger) is an early 30’s office drone at a London publishing house. She has reached the age where dating isn’t quite so fun anymore and your family can’t let a gathering pass by without asking, “so when are you going to settle down and get married?” It’s also an age where losing weight and keeping it off are excruciatingly difficult. The movie takes place during just over a year, from one Christmas to not long after the next. During the first holiday at her parents’ house, Bridget’s mother introduces her daughter to uptight lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). If that name sounds familiar, it should as it’s from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, upon which this story is (very) loosely based. Firth even played that character in a 1995 adaptation written by “BJD” co-writer Andrew Davies. Anyway, as both Bridget and Mark are wearing hideous clothes picked for them by their parents (aren’t they old enough to know better?), each is quickly repelled by the other. Both return home to London, but find themselves popping up at the same gatherings so often that it’s creepy. During these encounters, Darcy begins to soften toward Miss Jones. Unfortunately, his feelings toward her have one gigantic obstacle: Bridget’s boss, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant).
A rather mischievous chick magnet, Daniel becomes attracted to Bridget and after much flirting initiates an affair with her. By strange coincidence, he also has an unpleasant shared past with Darcy. Who will win Bridget’s heart? Take a guess. Much romantic hijinx ensue.
Okay, let’s get the big issues out of the way first. The English press (and maybe even a few of the public) were aghast when svelte Texan Zellweger was cast as the beloved Bridget. Then again, folks weren’t so appreciative of the British Vivien Leigh landing the part of the very southern lead in “Gone With the Wind”, so up yours, ya limey bastards! The other attention magnet is the star’s De Niro-esque weight gain of around 20 lbs. to physically match the role. By now Renee is probably even more tired of hearing about it than I am. Was it worth it? Actually, yes. The difference changes her appearance so drastically that the normally waif-like actress becomes proportioned like most other human beings of her age group. Combined with her impeccable British accident, Zellweger nails the part and carries the film.
The rest of the movie is, well, problematic. First-time feature director Sharon Maguire uses Soul music on the soundtrack in a way that seemed dated ten years ago. The pace of the film constantly lurches forward and stops. BJ’s parents and much of the movie tend to peg the needle on cute eccentricity. The last third of the story also gets a little preachy about finding someone who loves you “just the way you are”.
However, in the end this picture was strangely affecting. Maybe it’s because I’m about the same age. I didn’t meet my wife (who’s only 17 days younger than me) until I was 29 and counting. By that time each of had sort of given up on finding a mate and had decided to just be ourselves around whomever we met. Anyone who has read my writing on this site for awhile might wonder if I’m a drunken, snarky a*****e in real life, and the answer is of course, yes! My future bride immediately hated me just as much as sub-competent blowhard filmmakers (yes Kevin Smith, this means you) I’ve trashed do. As with Mark Darcy, a little persistence and understanding went a long way toward correcting the matter. A lot of hard-won wisdom and honesty don’t hurt either, and that’s probably why I found myself liking “Bridget Jones’ Diary”. Cheers.