Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This may be the second time I've ever suggested that the casting director should get an award. 

The first time was "The World According to Garp" which cast three actors with no movie careers to speak of. All three performed beautifully, all three roles became part of the lore of cinema history and all three people became lasting stars. (Glenn Close, Robin Williams, John Lithgow)

To cast three virtual unknowns so perfectly was sheer genius. (Williams was not an unknown, but was not considered an actor.) But I think what the casting director did in Bridget Jones was beyond genius and into the realm of some unexplainable extra-sensory parapsychological phenomena. Bridget Jones's Diary is a beloved book about a 32 year old woman fighting the traditional battles of singlehood. Bridget is overweight, British, busty, smokes like a chimney, drinks like a fish, and flirts with all the wrong men.

Now who would you cast for such a role - Kate Winslet seem logical? Kate would have sprung to my mind first, but I suppose plenty of top British actresses might have assayed the role. So who did they cast? Rene Zellweger. If you had told me that in advance, I would hope not to have had a drink in my mouth at the time. Zellweger is not British, is thin, is from Texas, has no breasts and scrawny chicken legs. Know what? It didn't matter. Zellweger did a Deniro. She gained a ton of weight, and performed a lot of the film in her underwear, with all that fat hanging out. She put on the accent with the weight, and seemed to me to deliver a memorable rendering of this character. 

I'll leave it to you Brits to render the verdict on her accent, and I'll have to defer to those of you who have read the book to evaluate the authenticity of her portrayal compared to the author's intentions. Frankly, I don't care that much about these things because, to quote that immortal bard known as "Hunter" - it works for me. 

Whatever Zellweger delivered by the standards of the book and the language, she delivered a charming, real, fumbling, often deceived but persevering person. She delivered the person that most of us are - clumsy, dreaming, undisciplined, but trying hard to make some sense out of life. Zellweger is kind of the female version of Matthew Broderick. They are who we really are. 

Oh, we wish we were Nicole Kidman and George Clooney, but we're not, and Zellweger is able to collect what we really are and play it back without having us cringe in embarrassment more than we're supposed to.

NUDITY REPORT

Zellweger shows lots of overripe cleavage, hefty thighs, and  saggy bum (which was what she was supposed to do for the role). Brief nudity from unknowns.
Zellweger nailed this puppy, and if it isn't the way the author intended it, the author ought to give some thought to a rewrite. 

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic 2.35:1 

  • full-length director's commentary

  • two music videos

  • several deleted scenes

  • some original entries from the diaries

She's supported ably by the two men who play two boyfriends in the film. There's her suave, empty, charismatic, insincere, floppy haired boss. (Guess who? Hint: this role was cast more predictably.) And then there's her stiff, sincere, uncharismatic, intelligent but invariably tongue-tied former childhood friend. (The underrated Colin Firth)

Hugh Grant brings to the boss role one unique talent - he's the only actor in the world  who always seems to be saying something clever. In fact, Hugh never has said anything clever that I can recall, but he delivers every single line as if thinking to himself "look at me, I am SO clever, and so adorable". As it turns out, that was appropriate in this role. Hugh was also cast for something else he does well  - insincerity - so the role gives him a chance to shine, and he does.

But it's Bridget's diary, not Hugh's and it's her picture as well. It's a romantic comedy that manages to deliver some fairly contrived plot turns without seeming untruthful, and to deliver a happy ending that is a bit zany. But the happiness is tentative - as happiness always is for us in reality.

Not my kind of film, but I enjoyed it. A lot.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, BBC 4/5, Apollo 84.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. One of the best of the year so far. 75% positive overall, 78% from the top critics.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.9, Apollo users 90/100. 
  • with their dollars ...

a monster hit in the UK - did 41 million, which is about equivalent to a $300 million picture in the USA, given the difference in population and currency exchange. 

also a hit in the USA, albeit on a more modest scale. It grossed $71 million in the States.

IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description,  this film is a B. A pleasure for those who love romantic comedies. An honest and amusing slice of life even if you don't like the genre. Nice job by Zellweger, ably supported by Grant and Firth.

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