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[whitespace] 'Bridget Jones's Diary' Polling Place: Renée Zellweger kids around in 'Bridget Jones's Diary.'

Photograph by Alex Bailey

Dear 'Diary'

'Bridget Jones' gets uneven film treatment from new director Sharon Maguire

By Nicole McEwan

'IT'S MONDAY MORNING, Bridget has woken up with a headache, a hangover ... and her boss." So goes the tag line of Bridget Jones's Diary, Sharon Maguire's screen adaptation of Helen Fielding's seriocomic mock journal, a tome that brilliantly satirizes the eponymous struggle of the modern career woman by poking fun at the Having-It-All myth that haunts her very existence.

Bridget (Renée Zellweger) does indeed want it all: a better position at the publishing house where she works, a perfect size 8 physique, a healthier lifestyle, a solid income and a good man. The secret to achieving these goals, she notes, "is to develop inner poise and a sense of self." In the meanwhile, shagging her dashingly handsome boss (Hugh Grant) will have to suffice.

The book's brash, cheeky style made it an international bestseller, a sort of West End Pride and Prejudice for women raised on a steady diet of fat-free snack foods, self-help books and Cosmopolitan magazine. Surprisingly, men tuned in as well. Even lit-guru Salmon Rushdie sang its praises. Rushdie's blurb ("A brilliant, comic creation. Even men will laugh") adorns each of the millions of copies sold. So the fact that the film never quite achieves the bald-faced hilarity of the novel is hardly surprising.

Instead, Maguire delivers an enjoyable romantic comedy with a distinctly Nora Ephron sensibility--and an Ephronesque heroine to boot. Bridget is hapless, neurotic and more than a bit klutzy, similar to Meg Ryan in both You've Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally. Add a little wry humor here, some physical comedy there, the inevitable romantic setback and a charming, if slightly forced, performance by Texan Zellweger and you have a nice romp through the life of a harried "singleton" who secretly wishes she could join the club of "smug marrieds" whose presence is a thorn in her occasionally plump side.

Early on, Maguire uses fantasy sequences and other visual whimsies to incorporate the novel's flavor--in one scene Bridget's fastidious tracking of her weight, calories consumed, fags smoked and cocktails imbibed is scrolled beneath a billboard on Piccadilly Circus (London's Times Square) as she strolls past. But as the film goes on, these amusing flourishes disappear, giving way to a straightforward and markedly more dull narrative approach.

The casting is equally hit and miss. Zellweger gained 15 pounds and the scorn of the British to play Bridget. To her credit, Zellweger's accent is remarkably consistent. But despite being blessed with strong comic timing (witness Nurse Betty), her presence occasionally seems forced. Watching the film one can't help but fantasize what Kate Winslet or Emily Watson might have done.

Some weak directorial choices, such as overdoing the scene in which Bridget wears an unflattering sheer top to the office, making Bridget seem pathetic--a betrayal of Fielding's innately smart character. A lean and bronzed Hugh Grant is perfect, at long last playing the cad (his public scandal certainly proved he had it in him), while Colin Firth's Mark Darcy does a fine turn displaying that still waters truly do run deep.

Ultimately, the Postmodern Princess finds her Prince Charming. Sadly, Bridget's fans may leave the film feeling they've yet to find their Bridget.

Bridget Jones's Diary (R; 95 min.), directed by Sharon Maguire, written by Andrew Davies, Richard Curtis and Helen Fielding, based on Fielding's novel, photographed by Stuart Dryburgh and starring Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, opens Friday at the Los Gatos Cinema and selected theaters valleywide.

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From the April 12-18, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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