Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
I haven't read this book, but I know people who swear by it. The lovely Marla Singer, for one. She's a freak for all British literature, and she's been hounding me for months for details on this adaptation of one of the biggest selling books of the last few years. She'll be thrilled by this very good review from what sounds like one of the first screenings of the film. Take a look!!
Earlier this year, across the pond in England, an uproar arose over the casting of a Yank, Renee Zellweger, as Bridget Jones; the much-beloved titular character of two best selling, and veddy British, novels. Once again, it appeared, not only was Hollywood plotting to do a great disservice to another fine piece of literature, they were also setting out to Americanize that which is so quintessentially British. Even when successful with such a gambit (HIGH FIDELITY springs immediately to mind,) why can't our brethren in Blighty, having suffered through the indignity of Mel Gibson kicking their ruthlessly, colonial-minded bums every other year, be extended the courtesy of not having to endure the sullying a national treasure?
Allow me to reassure Prime Minister Tony Blair that this is one film that won't require the condemnation of the British Parliament. Under the direction of first-time helmer Sharon Maguire, and adapted by Richard Curtis of NOTTING HILL and FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL fame, BRIDGET JONES' DIARY is a throwback to the freewheeling '60's work of Richard Lester; rapidly-paced, gentle in tone, but with an acerbic wit lurking underneath. What's more, having seen our chain-smoking, weight-battling heroine essayed so confidently by Ms. Zellweger, I'm absolutely clueless as to who else could nail the role so triumphantly.
We're first introduced to Bridget as she reluctantly attends a party thrown at her parents' house. Her apprehension, it turns out, stems less from the prospect of spending time with her unconditionally adoring father (Jim Broadbent,) than to navigating the matchmaker tendencies of her overbearing mother (Gemma Jones,) who can't fathom why her over-thirty daughter is still single. It turns out Mrs. Jones is keen to re-introduce Bridget to Mark Darcy, a childhood acquaintance who is now a distinguished barrister. All goes disastrously, of course, sending poor Bridget home to drink herself into a stupor while emoting to depressing pop ballads (reaching a hysterical peak as Zellweger belts out "All By Myself" to her telephone from which, we ascertain, no suitors have called for some time.)
Determined not to wallow in her misery, however, a voracious Bridget goes on the prowl, donning sheer blouses complimented by skirts so short as to bring into doubt their very existence; all in a rather desperate attempt to draw the wandering eye of her ladykiller boss, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant,) who runs the publishing house at which Bridget toils thanklessly as a publicist. It isn't long before Daniel and Bridget begin shacking up regularly, briefly setting her world aright for before her mother drops the bombshell that she's engaging in an affair with the flamboyant host of a popular Home-Shopping program, sending Bridget's father spiraling into a pit of depression. It's also at this point that the aforementioned Mark Darcy professes his genuine affection for Bridget, a doubly-troubling dilemma since he is also a longtime rival of Daniel's. This is even further complicated by Mark's impending engagement to Natasha (Embeth Davidtz,) who, in her polished and proper manner, is the very antithesis of Bridget.
And on Bridget veers, from one calamity to another, seeking only a man who will love her just as she is -- socially awkward, slightly pudgy, but of a kind heart -- while keeping watch over her increasingly melancholy father, who, as he heartbreakingly confides, "just doesn't work" without her mother.
It's a wonder how Sharon Maguire, with whom I am entirely unfamiliar, moves so assuredly from one uproarious set-piece to another. So deft is her touch, I often forgot I was watching a work-in-progress, even when confronted with grainy digital footage. Comedies, in particular, are not supposed to work this well in test screenings.
Most importantly, Maguire has clearly connected with her leading lady, eliciting a performance from Zellweger that is surely a career best. It's rare to see a relatively glamorous Hollywood actress go to such lengths to look so amazingly plain. It's one thing for Cameron Diaz to frizz up her hair, and forego make-up, but quite another for Zellweger to pack on some pounds, and, then, wear outfits which serve only to exacerbate her less than stellar shape. How, then, is Bridget so desirable that two men would vie for her affection? It's all about charm, a quality which Zellweger exudes effortlessly, lighting up the screen at any given moment with an adorable scrunch of her face, or the longing gaze of her deep blue eyes. If NURSE BETTY was the film that proved this girl's got chops, consider BRIDGET JONES' DIARY the movie where Zellweger, by virtue of a performance that should draw the empathy of women worldwide, became our generation's Kelly or Hepburn.
With all of this praise (and not a word of it hyperbole) lavished on the star, I don't want to shortchange the work of the uniformly excellent cast that surrounds her. Playing the cad for the first time that I can remember, the thankfully stammer-free Hugh Grant is as assured as he's ever been. The first moment we meet Daniel, exiting an elevator, Grant does a quick surveying of the office landscape that perfectly sets the tone for his character's predatorial nature. It's the kind of subtle work for which the oft-maligned actor never receives enough credit. He's nicely contrasted by Colin Firth, who starts off as a chilly, emotionless intellectual, but slowly melts when in the presence of Zellweger (especially in an uproarious dinner party scene where Bridget's culinary ineptitude forces some quick improvisation on his part.) Fine work is also turned in by the ever-reliable Jim Broadbent (forever Warner Purcell from BULLETS OVER BROADWAY) and Gemma Jones.
I also want to single out the screenplay, which contains more than its share of quotable lines ("Careful, you ham-fisted cunt!" being a particular favorite.) Richard Curtis has been churning out these charming little scripts with astonishing regularity throughout the last decade, and even though he's aided by what I'm told is a very funny novel, I still stand in awe of his continued success.
With its scheduled release more than four months away, there is ample time to fine tune what would already be a cinch for my top-ten list of 2000. Is BRIDGET JONES' DIARY perfect? Heavens, no! There's far too much rushing about in the final reel, the temp soundtrack relies too heavily on over-familiar R&B hits to punctuate certain moments, and I'm not sure the ending is right, but, in a way, to paraphrase a recurring line from the film, I think I kind of love BRIDGET just the way it is.