Film Score: Patrick Doyle Cinematography: Stuart Dryburgh
Starring: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant and Jim Broadbent
Bridget Jones’s Diary is a frothy little romantic comedy that, while quite popular in its day, seems to feel a bit dated nearly fifteen years later. Renée Zellweger also seems a rather odd choice for the title role. Considering that hundreds of actors from the British Isles have donned American accents to work in Hollywood, why not go for someone who already has the accent? But when you look at the British actresses that were under consideration at the time, Helena Bonham Carter, Cate Blanchett, Emily Watson, Rachel Weisz and Kate Winslet, it turns out she probably was the best choice after all. Her ability to go convincingly from ditsy comedy to deep emotion had already been displayed to great effect in Jerry McGuire and it works perfectly in this role. In addition, she has a strong supporting cast with Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, as well as Jim Broadbent to assist her. Her work with a linguist to nail the British accent seems spot on, at least to this American, and her subsequent work speaks for itself in terms of quality.
As the film begins, Renée Zellweger is visiting her parents for the holidays. There she meets Colin Firth, a stuffy barrister she hasn’t seen since they were children. Back home she is a mass of depression on New Year’s Eve, and decides to keep a diary. That, at least, is the conceit and gives the excuse for a modicum of voice-overs by Zellweger but isn’t really necessary in terms of plot development. She works in a London publishing house for editor Hugh Grant who represents everything that can be wrong about a man. In spite of herself, however, she wants him anyway. She decides to make her move at a release party and her friends give her all kinds of advice that she doesn’t need to make Grant lust after her. The advice does work, however, on someone else attending the party: Colin Firth. Though he is dating a leggy fellow barrister, he now sees Zellweger with new eyes. At the same time there is some decidedly unfinished business between Grant and Firth, which Grant has told Zellweger was because Firth slept with his fiancée. How things resolve is as predictable as it is enjoyable to watch.
That being said, there are some problems with the film that keep it from being achieving greatness. The first has to be the screenplay. There’s an over-emphasis on the zany that, while funny, wears thin after a while and reduces the protagonist to a cliché so that by the time we get to the real romance it has made the viewer wary. When Zellweger tells her diary that Grant is all of the things she doesn’t want in a man and pursues him anyway, there’s no reason to believe that what results is genuine or has even the possibility of lasting. Grant is a liar and a player and she knows this going in, so how are we to believe anything he says? Which makes her belief in him disappointing rather than surprising. My second problem with the film is the direction, especially when it comes to Colin Firth. There’s too much open disgust with her in the beginning to make that relationship believable. In a sense, the whole thing is like a mystery story, but where Grant is concerned the audience is given plenty of clues and the fact that Zellweger doesn’t pick up on them is annoying. With Firth there are no clues at all in the beginning, making that part of the story feel like a cheat.
None of that, however, is bad enough to destroy the film. Zellweger is sprightly and funny and one wishes there were more of the diary in voiceover, something similar to the beginning of The English Teacher, to provide a counterpoint to the action onscreen. Some of the scenes she has are inspired, her rendition of Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself” is terrific, as is her sprint through the snow in her underwear at the end. Hugh Grant is terrific as the cad, but comes off much more one-dimensional than when he plays the love interest. Likewise, Colin Firth isn’t given enough time with Zellweger onscreen to make us want them to get together the way we should. The direction by Sharon Maguire is solid, however, and moves along at a nice pace. There is also a nice film score by Patrick Doyle to make the pop songs that much more meaningful. Bridget Jones’s Diary is definitely a light-weight romantic comedy, but was popular enough to spin off a sequel and, given the right frame of mind, isn’t a bad way to spend a couple of hours.