THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The general rule of adapting books into films seems to be this: they always change the good books but shoot the bad ones exactly the way they are. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Wonder Boys and High Fidelity are recent examples. So is Bridget Jones's Diary. Every bit of wit, humor, and sentiment that made Helen Fielding's book a best-seller is here on screen.

Renee Zellweger goes down the fire pole in Bridget Jones's Diary
Renee Zellweger stars as Bridget, a thirty year old single British woman who obsesses about her weight, her bad habits, and her inability to find a good man. She initially carries on a flirtation with her boss, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), a lecherous cad who gets Bridget into bed a few times and promptly leaves her. Her meddling mother tries to hook her up with another man, a lawyer named Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). As a child, Bridget used to "run naked in his wading pool," which, in her mother's eyes, makes them a perfect match. The two deny finding one another interesting, although an attraction does ultimately develop. The question is, can Bridget raise her self-esteem enough to believe she deserves happiness with someone who respects her?

One of the best things about Fielding's book was the way it captured the social humiliation that comes with being over 30 and single, especially if one is, shall we say, a tad plump. The writer's character railed against "smug marrieds" who taunt "singletons" with nosy queries about their love lives (or, more accurately, their lack thereof). Bridget Jones became a pop culture heroine for single women (and a few men) everywhere.

Which is probably why the British press went insane when a skinny Texan was cast as the British icon. In the end, talent wins out. Packing an additional 20 pounds (and looking just as good for it) and an accent, Renee Zellweger shines in the role. The Bridget in the novel was loveable and neurotic, charming and insecure. Zellweger brings every single one of those qualities out in her performance. There is a vulnerability she projects that makes the character just as compelling as she was on the page. Zellweger has really become one of my favorite actresses, able to give performances of surprising depth in one good film after another (last year, she starred in Nurse Betty and Me, Myself & Irene - two other pictures I love). She was robbed of an Oscar nomination for Betty; let's hope the academy doesn't make the same mistake next year.

As good as she is, for the audience to fully care about Bridget, it is important to have strong feelings for the men in her life as well. Thankfully, the male parts are equally well cast. Hugh Grant is absolute perfection as the smarmy Daniel. When we first see him, he is standing in an elevator with a cat-who-swallowed-the-canary grin on his face. I laughed out loud. With a single look, Grant conveys all the smarm this guy encompasses. Colin Firth is also nicely cast. In print and on film, Darcy is somewhat stuffy, a guy who may not be a ton of fun but who is a good man nevertheless. The interplay between Darcy and Bridget is very funny: he's all uptight and proper, while she is dizzy and perpetually flustered.

The screenplay, co-written by Fielding and Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill), balances laughs and heart while still retaining a touch of that rage against the "smug marrieds." The direction, by Sharon Maguire, maintains just the right tone, despite a few brief lapses into cutesiness. At one point, Darcy confesses to Bridget that he likes her just the way she is. So do we. Most importantly, Bridget Jones's Diary effectively convinces us that Bridget Jones comes to like herself just the way she is, too.

( 1/2 out of four)

Bridget Jones's Diary is rated R for language and some strong sexuality. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.
Return to The Aisle Seat