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On April 13, 2001, Renee Zellweger brought Bridget Jones’s Diary to U.S. theaters. The R-rated rom-com, which grossed north of $280 million worldwide, went on to become a film franchise. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
LONDON — Bridget Jones’s Diary is a film full of wit, warmth and honest, knowing humor, topped off with a plethora of excellent performances. This Bridget Jones has the style to win over U.K. audiences and almost certainly the charm to wow the American box office.
Renee Zellweger was the subject of much media scrutiny (in the U.K., especially) when cast as Bridget — a single thirtysomething Brit in a postfeminist world looking for love while trying to mind her alcohol intake, watch her weight and cut down on the smoking. How could this young American possibly play a beloved English character? It is called acting, and she gives a splendid, often heartwarming performance.
Bridget Jones’s Diary, begun in 1995 as a British newspaper column by Helen Fielding, was turned into a best-selling novel a year later. The story of Bridget, her hopeless love life, her alcoholic binges and her inept attempts to develop poise struck a chord, and the film adaptation, nicely directed by newcomer Sharon Maguire, an acclaimed documentary maker, manages to blend subtle charm with almost slapstick moments.
Bridget has simple ambitions: to lose weight and find true love. The film opens as this London-based publicist for a successful publisher visits her parents at their countryside home for their annual Christmas party. They try to set her up with Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), the visiting son of their neighbors. She is initially impressed, but when he snubs her, she returns to London realizing she is destined to remain a “singleton” and vows to keep a diary and find herself a “nice, sensible boyfriend.”
The trouble is that Bridget instead falls for her boss, the dashing, sexy Daniel Cleaver (played with twinkling, sly charm by Hugh Grant), who to her surprise starts sending her flirtatious e-mails. Over dinner one night, Daniel reveals that he and Mark attended college together and that Mark had an affair with his fiancee.
Bridget and Daniel start an affair, but Bridget’s euphoria is dampened somewhat when her mother announces that she is leaving her father for a presenter on the Home Shopping Channel. When Bridget catches Daniel with an American colleague, she again vows to take control of her life.
She starts a new career as a presenter on a TV current-affairs program. Then, at a dinner party, she bumps into Mark, who surprises her when he tells her that he likes her — and likes her just as she is. She is even more surprised when he turns up at her flat to help prepare a birthday meal for her friends.
Unfortunately, Daniel also turns up at the flat to lure Bridget back, but Mark challenges him to a fist fight. In a wonderful scene, the two engage in a hilariously clumsy tussle, which even sees them stumbling into a Turkish restaurant.
Zellweger is excellent as Bridget. Never once does she let her accent slip, and she displays a great capacity for physical comedy. She put on weight for the role and easily slips into the endearingly inept character of Bridget, bringing to the role a real sense of sweetness and vulnerability.
Grant and Firth look slim, trim and attractive. Grant especially seems to relish the chance to play a bit of a bounder, marking a real contrast to his more endearing roles in Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral, while Firth slowly allows the tenderness and depth of his character to be revealed.
The script credit is shared by three writers — Fielding, Andrew Davies (who scripted the television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice) and Richard Curtis (Notting Hill) — yet appears seamless. It’s full of wonderful jokes and moves along at an easy pace.
The great thing about Bridget is that she is a terribly honest character who wears her heart on her sleeve. She lives in a real world (unlike her American counterparts in Sex and the City) and struggles through as best she can. Production designer Gemma Jackson does a great job of presenting a vision of London that is tinged with romance, and excellent use of locations helps present a charming view of the city. — Mark Adams
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