Helen Fielding's delightful postmodern-feminist "Bridget" gets the big-screen treatment, for better and worse.
Book-to-film adaptations are notoriously mixed gambles. After all, it's difficult to mess with the collective imagination of millions of fans. Rarely is the screen version of any book better than the original, and the more popular the book, the more chances its translation to the big screen will be a disappointment.
Avid fans of Helen Fielding's monstrously successful "Bridget Jones's Diary," can breathe a sigh of relief: Fielding's lovably imperfect, calorie-counting Bridget makes it to the screen intact. But fans will bemoan the demise of many key characters and favorite scenes from the book, apparently sacrificed to keep the movie a snappy, 90-odd-mintues long. And though the movie at first seems to embrace Fielding's diary structure and her droll observations about life, liberty and the pursuit of true love, both are inexplicably dropped along the way.
Things begin promisingly, with Bridget (Renee Zellweger) alone in her flat, comically crooning along with the radio. Swathed in red flannel pajamas and awash in a wine-induced haze, the song she's belting out is fittingly "All by Myself." It's hard not to embrace such a universal moment, and Zellweger makes the most of it, bringing those unfamiliar with the weight-obsessed, chain-smoking, love-starved heroine up to speed immediately.
Bridget is then off to the dreaded holiday turkey-curry buffet, where for the gazillionth time family friends barrage her with questions about her love life. More specifically, her lack of one. Her irrepressible mum (Gemma Jones) is scheming to fix her up with party guest Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), a childhood acquaintance who's now a top British barrister and just happens to be recently divorced. But Bridget suffers from "foot-in-mouth" disease and completely botches the mother-orchestrated encounter.
Needless to say, it's not a love connection. Besides, Bridget has her sights and heart set elsewhere: She's mooning over her womanizing cad of a boss, the handsome Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). A round of cleverly naughty e-mails on the interoffice computer system with Daniel recharges Bridget's never-ending quest to lose 10 pounds, cut back on her drinking and try to quit smoking. She must strike while the iron is hot, now that Daniel seems interested in her "Ally McBeal"-esque skimpy black skirt. A blissful and sex-filled courtship with Daniel begins, but then Bridget, never one to live too long in the haze of romantic rationalization, makes a startling discovery. Quicker than her bosom-buddies Shazza (Sally Phillips), Jude (Shirley Henderson) and Tom (James Callis) can tell her there's life after Daniel, Bridget is back vowing to lose all excess baggage, whether on her frame or on her heart.
But wait, it seems Darcy might be interested in her after all. Back in the picture, he apologizes for his earlier behavior and in true "Pride and Prejudice" style, he shows up to help Bridget cook dinner to celebrate her birthday. But guess who also shows up for the party?
In a scene concocted strictly for the screen, Daniel and Mark engage in a "High Noon" showdown that delineates their bitter history, but also reduces Bridget's buddies to a lame, simpering chorus. On the printed page, these friends are true friends, willing to support, or meddle, or set Bridget straight when necessary. On screen, they're nothing more than set decoration, the necessary filler around the Bridget-Daniel-Darcy triangle.
Other memorable scenes from the book are brought to the screen with mixed success: The hilarious "Tarts and Vicars" party where Bridget arrives dressed in full Playboy Bunny regalia only to discover that the theme's been changed isn't quite as funny to watch as it was to read. However, the scene where Bridget's new job as a reporter on a "Current Affairs"-type tabloid show requires her to scurry up a firehouse pole is hilariously brought to life.
Throughout it all, Zellweger is a tireless good sport. And despite the furor her casting created especially in the United Kingdom she shows a comic timing and sweet vulnerability that make her perfect for Bridget. Gaining some 20 pounds for the role, Zellweger transforms herself into an Everywoman every woman can embrace.
Both Grant and Firth give impeccable performances as polar opposites. Grant has never been more impishly attractive. He seems to revel in playing the cad instead of his usual earnest, stumbling romantic lead types. Firth, whose performance as Darcy in the BBC's "Pride and Prejudice" was the model for Fielding's Darcy, brings unexpected depth to his role. Even those who know the outcome will find Firth's portrayal immensely satisfying.
Documentary filmmaker-turned-director Sharon Maguire, who just happens to be the real-life model for Bridget's best friend Shazza, shows promise. Perhaps a more experienced hand could have kept the movie from feeling uneven at times, but Maguire does manage to capture Fielding's unique blend of subtle charm in the midst of outrageous slapstick moments.
Certainly not better than the book, this "Bridget Jones" does stay true to its source, giving fans, as well as the uninitiated, a movie full of wit, warmth and wry honesty.
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