Boston's Alternative Source! image!
     
Feedback

Split decision
Zellweger g., Hollywood b.

BY NINA WILLDORF


Size of popcorn consumed while watching film: medium (eek!)

Butter scarfed: too much (b.)

Alcohol units consumed: 0 (v.g.)

Time spent laughing: lots (g.)

Minutes spent ogling Hugh Grant: most of the movie (v.b.)

At the start of this amusing adaptation of Helen Fielding's wildly popular 1996 novel Bridget Jones's Diary, the thirtysomething single working girl on the prowl resolves to eat less, smoke less, drink less, and steer clear of appealing bad boys. If only it were so easy.

The success of both Fielding's novel and the film that piggybacks on the bestselling page turner rests on Bridget's failure to follow through on such resolutions. One-track-minded women's magazines, endless weight-loss goals, publishing-world careerism-over-relationships - Bridget's battling a weighty load.

Whereas in the novel she copes by chronicling obsessively every calorie consumed, pound gained, and bottle of wine downed, the film, I'm happy to say, doesn't go there. Despite much pre-production skepticism about a Texan taking on the role of a Brit, Renée Zellweger delivers as the girl who, for the life of her, can't seem to get the guy - to the thuds of an accelerating internal clock.

Zellweger clearly took one for the team, packing on pounds to be a struggling Everywoman, sacrificing her waistline (which ends up looking normal rather than sickly) and, perhaps, her dignity (especially with one particular post-weight-gain ass-baring shot). It was a wise move. From her surprisingly sure British accent to her tone-deaf sloshy sing-along to the FM dial in the opening scene, Zellweger's squinty-eyed charm helps rally the troops to root for everyone's favorite " singleton " - Fielding's coinage for one of the two types of people in the world (the other being " smug marrieds " ).

Thrown in to thwart Bridget are two of Britain's sexiest: Hugh Grant (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill) and Colin Firth (Pride and Prejudice). Grant has recently been on a mission to beef up his post-Hurley bad-boy-bachelor image (most recently by spreading tales of his own road rage to British magazine Heat), and his role as sleazy seductive boss Daniel Cleaver will surely further that aim. Cleaver beds his underling Bridget with such winner lines as " Love your tits in that top. " She bites. Although his callousness is a refreshing change after a career of bumbling sensitive verbal diarrhea, by the end he's reverted to his old smarmy self. The other man pining for a piece of Bridget is good boy Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), who since the days of co-ed backyard naked splashing with her in the kiddie pool has gone on to become a top barrister and gentle moralist. We're to believe that the sullen genius has been lobbying for a rousing game of adult " doctor " all along. But the leap falls short. The eventual union between disheveled Bridget and put-together Mark is both underdeveloped and unreal; she wonders why he would want her, and she should.

Teased into this torrid story line is the unraveling of her parents' marriage, when mom (Gemma Jones) ditches dad (Jim Broadbent) for an orange-skinned elder hunk who MC's Home Shopping Network programs. not only does the romantic plot bounce between generations, it also seems to jump eras. Her parents are almost caricatures, dowdy and ridiculous.

Bridget Jones is at its best when the characters are at their worst. It's the female High Fidelity, a cringe-filled revelation of romantic insecurities, mistakes, and wrong turns. Bridget chooses the wrong guy; she sleeps with him too soon; she says those fatal three words embarrassingly early; having been misinformed about the theme at a barbecue, she shows up dressed as a Playboy bunny. She blurts out incriminating information that's far from sportingly self-depreciating. Yet where tripping out of cars, wearing the wrong thing, and getting sauced in front of the boss could become cheap slapstick, director Sharon Maguire turns the blubbering and the blubbery thighs into successful satire. Repeat humiliation works only if an actress is willing to look truly stupid, and stupid works only if it's not taken to hit-you-over-the-head levels. The effect here is tempered, and wonderfully funny because it's true.

The rousing clamor over the book would seem to guarantee a successful film adaptation, at least in box-office terms. But the sequel to Fielding's first novel erred by tagging on a happy ending, and the film follows. In the final hour, saccharine Hollywood is thrown into the mix with the delicious British saltiness, a match that is not made in Heaven. As soon as Bridget succeeds, Zellweger no longer has us with a simple " Hello. " Try " Goodbye. "

Issue Date: April 12-19, 2001