Bridget Jones' Diary
reviewed by Steve Sailer
UPI, April 9, 2001
If you're in the mood for a romantic comedy that ends with Van Morrison's lush "Someone Like You" playing in the background as the spunky heroine falls into the arms of the good man who was always there for her while a cad broke her heart, boy, are you in luck these days. Both Ashley Judd's recent "Someone Like You" and Renée Zellweger's superior "Bridget Jones's Diary" (opening Friday, April 13) will meet your movie-going needs.
Both films are based on recent novels in the mini-genre pioneered by Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity" (which John Cusack made into a movie last year). In these books, urban singles in the media business start to realize, after vacillating away their twenties, that they'd better get serious about finding a mate.
"Bridget Jones" is much funnier than "Someone Like You." Its humor ranges from Jane Austen-style dry wit to Benny Hill-style bawdy slapstick. Zellweger, best known for "Jerry Maguire," gives a winning performance as Bridget, without overacting like Judd.
By the way, the English critics thought the British accent of the Texan Zellweger was close to convincing. Yet, Zellweger did seem worried enough about her command of her new accent that she spoke much more slowly than was appropriate for the flighty and insecure Bridget.
Further, although Hugh Jackman of "Someone" is being talked up as an eventual replacement for Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond franchise, it's Zellweger's costar Hugh Grant who suddenly stakes his claim to being the next 007.
As Bridget's two-timing boss, Grant (who played cute but fluttery leads in the similar British romantic comedies "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Notting Hill") had women in the preview audience audibly gasping at his leering sexiness. Like Brosnan before him, the 40-year-old Grant has finally matured out of his pretty boy youth. More importantly, he has also brought under control his always-remarkable ability to cycle rapidly through facial expressions.
In the past, Grant has tended to come across as a twitchy, dithering cross between Ally McBeal and William F. Buckley Jr. Here, though, he uses his face's ability to send multiple messages in a fraction of a second to show off dominance rather than diffidence. When flirting with Bridget, his lustful looks tell Bridget that not only does he want her, but that he knows she knows he wants her, leaving her feeling arousingly checkmated by his masterful control of the situation.
Finally, the movie, with its rich, saturated colors, simply looks much better than most comedies.
Probably the only people who will be disappointed by the film will be those who loved the howlingly funny book. The moviemakers have turned what was a tart satire on feminism into a pure romantic fantasy. In the book, the ditzy, incompetent, and adorable Bridget slowly comes to realize that by letting her stridently feminist friend Sharon bully her into believing that her (dismal) career was more important than marriage, she has reached the verge of wasting her life.
The novel's subversive perspective elicited howls of protest from feminists in the press. Just this Sunday, an author of a book of feminist film criticism named Molly Haskell wrote in the "New York Times" that the novel is "grotesquely reactionary." She went on to plaintively ask, "[H]aven't we all evolved" past Bridget's emotional states?
Considering that a couple of million more women have bought "Bridget Jones's Diary" than have bought Ms. Haskell's theorizing, the answer seems clear. As Darwin pointed out, humans don't evolve very fast. Modern women feel the same emotions as their cavewomen ancestors.
Novelist Helen Fielding modeled Bridget's misleading mentor Sharon on her own friend, the documentary filmmaker Sharon Maguire. Perhaps in repayment for fictionalizing her as a hypocritical harpy, Fielding promised to let Maguire direct the movie version. Not surprisingly, Maguire's movie fails to lampoon her own ideology.
Instead, Maguire has made a fantasy about an ugly duckling with pudgy jowls and lank hair who somehow entrances both Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. That other British sex symbol plays Mark Darcy (who is modeled upon Mr. Darcy in Austen's "Pride and Prejudice"). Firth's character is the unfashionable but rich and reliable human rights lawyer who slowly comes to worship Bridget from afar.
Much of the hype surrounding the movie claims that by putting on about 20 pounds to play Bridget, Zellweger has undermined Hollywood's obsession with actresses who, as Bridget would say, "look like stick insects." Unfortunately, Zellweger's portrayal will only reinforce Hollywood's infatuation with near-anorexia because the extra weight makers her look awful. Many of the new pounds went to her face and arms. Since Zellweger has the scrunched up features of someone suffering an allergy attack, the only time her face appears even moderately attractive is when she's concentration-camp thin.
Now, Zellweger's an excellent actress, so it may seem harsh to dwell on her physical shortcomings. But it's necessary because the fact that Zellweger puts her pounds on in unappealing places made it hopeless for the movie to even try to get across the book's satirical point about Bridget's neurotic obsession with her weight. The character in the novel, whose weight fluctuates between 119 and 133, isn't fat by any rational standard. She's just overweight by the unnatural norms that women in her fashionable social strata apply to each other.
If Jennifer Aniston of "Friends" had played Bridget, she could have helped make the movie a terrific satire on the media business' diet frenzies. Plump Aniston up and most of the added weight would have gone to her hips and breasts. In any normal human culture that values child-bearing capacity in women, a voluptuous Aniston would have been viewed as a goddess.
But the upper reaches of Anglo-American society have become deeply suspicious of women who show evidence of an ample supply of womanly hormones. A thoroughly modern man worries that a woman who grows her own breasts, rather than buying them from a plastic surgeon, might want to use them someday. If he married her, she might quit her job and stay home to breastfeed her babies. And then how could he afford the trendy life?
("Bridget Jones's Diary" is rated "R" for Hugh Grant's foul mouth, a fistfight, and a two-second sex scene.)