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Bridget Jones's Diary
Directed by Sharon Maguire 
Starring Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant 

"It all began on New Year's Day in the 32nd year of my being single" is the opening line of _Bridget Jones's Diary_, a new film starring Renee Zellweger that opens this weekend. The New Year's Day part isn't terribly important,
but the 32nd year and unmarried status clearly situate both the movie's title character and target audience.

You see, Bridget (Renee Zellweger) is unhappily single, a fact that receives even greater emphasis when her mom sets her up with a stiff London barrister wearing a sweater (a "jumper" in Brit-speak) with a ridiculous reindeer on it. After a little too much to drink, Bridget makes a fool of herself (an unfortunately common occurrence) and then has the further indignity of overhearing her date badmouth her to his mother. "That was the moment, right then," she declares, when she decided to get her life together. She resolves to lose weight, cut back on the drinking and smoking, and find a nice, normal guy with marriage potential. She also starts a diary to record her progress.

Her best intentions aside, Bridget isn't terribly successful, at least not with those resolutions. On the other hand, she quickly finds herself in bed with her somewhat slithery boss, Daniel (played with great charm by Hugh Grant, Four Weddings and a Funeral). After a few weeks of bliss, however, Daniel dumps Bridget for a thinner, more sophisticated American woman.

Suddenly, Bridget needs to find both another job and another man. Enter Marc Darcy (Colin Firth, Shakespeare in Love), the earlier New Year's date who keeps showing up at various points in the film. Though he's never more than awkward, Marc scores big points when he says the magic words, "I like you, just as you are." To a woman struggling with self-esteem, there's no better pick-up line.

The rest of the movie follows Bridget as she tries to choose between Marc and Daniel (the latter becomes quickly available again). Though the film keeps you guessing which beau will win out, it's nonetheless entirely predictable. We're not sure which guy Bridget will end up with, but we know that one of them will reveal himself as a cad, and Bridget will choose the other.

Interestingly, the movie has no room for the possibility that Bridget might not need a husband. In that sense, the film fits into the post-feminist climate dominating Hollywood today. Bridget is a largely unhappy character who can only envision happiness with a strong man in her bed. She obsesses about her weight and makes ever-more humiliating overtures to the men in her life.

The film highlights Bridget's humiliation with two excruciating, drink-fueled public-speaking fiascos--one at a job-related function and the other at a Christmas party. Even worse are the various fashion disasters that befall her. She shows up at a formal party dressed as a Playboy bunny, her short skirt rides up on her while she's on national television and, in the movie's final scene, she runs out into the snow wearing nothing but a t-shirt and tiger-striped panties.

Being a good sport through thick and thin is Renee Zellweger, who's become something of an expert on playing put-upon women (last year, it was Me, Myself & Irene and Nurse Betty). Her winning personality helps soften the film's hard edges and keeps you rooting for her despite the paucity of choices the movie gives her. Equally good is Hugh Grant, who is genuinely hilarious. His standard dry wit gets a little darker turn here, but he's still thoroughly charming. Every scene he's in is delightful. Colin Firth struck me as a little stiff, but that solidity might play better with the women in the audience.

The success of Bridget Jones's Diary will probably depend on how much you identify with Bridget. Though the movie has some great lines (most coming from the best-selling book), the narrative itself leaves a lot to be desired. 

J. Robert Parks 4/14/2001

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