‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ (2001) Review

Fearful of becoming a spinster, Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) decides to get her life under control. And so in the new year, she resolves to quit drinking and smoking, to lose weight and find a good man. She also decides to start a diary to track her journey of self-discovery and improvement. Resolutions are not always easy to maintain and Bridget has difficulty becoming the sophisticated career woman she’s striving to be. She is awkward with a tendency of sticking her foot in her mouth, her mother can be quite flighty and meddlesome, and she’s not taken seriously at work at all. One positive aspect of her life is the flirtatious advances from her handsome boss Daniel (Hugh Grant), but when their relationship spectacularly bottoms out, Bridget decides to turn her life around once more. And she means it this time.

Based on the immensely popular book, there was a bit of an uproar when American-born Zellweger was cast in the role of the British heroine. With the wrong actress, Bridget could have easily come across as unlikeable and a bit of a mess. Instead, Bridget is still a bit of a mess, but thanks to Zellweger’s charming portrayal, she’s quite sympathetic and more importantly, relatable. Her weaknesses are quite apparent throughout the movie, but they’re never unforgivable because Bridget learns from her mistakes and tries to fix them as she can. She has two extremely different, but entertaining relationships with Daniel and Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), an ex-friend of Daniel’s who is a rather serious barrister that Bridget’s mother tries to set her up with at a holiday party (with disastrous results).

While you know that Daniel is not the right one for her, Zellweger and Grant still have some fun scenes together from work flirtations to a weekend visit out to the countryside. Like Bridget, you really believe Daniel has true feelings for her, so it’s quite easy for you to feel Bridget’s devastation at the appearance of Daniel’s American girlfriend. Grant is pretty charismatic as Daniel, and thankfully he’s not the stammering, bumbling Hugh Grant we see in some of his other romantic comedies. Daniel is confident and well aware of how charming he is. You can see why Bridget is attracted to him, but there is also something a bit off about Daniel, and Grant can play a jerk as well as he can play the insecure, goofy leading man.

Enter Mark Darcy (swoon). He’s stoic and rather (defensively) rude at times, but he’s honest with Bridget. Mark has experienced his own heartbreak and Firth does a fantastic job with Darcy’s obvious discomfort at verbalizing his feelings for Bridget. Honestly, he doesn’t need to say the words, because all it takes is a look for you to see exactly what Darcy is feeling. Bridget and Mark’s chemistry isn’t as easy and carefree as her chemistry with Daniel, but that’s the point. It’s complicated and much harder to pinpoint due to misunderstandings and the fact that they got off on the wrong foot. There are deeper feelings here that go beyond the possibility of a simple fling.

The rest of the cast is just as fantastic. Bridget’s parents (Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent) are dealing with their own marriage falling apart, and so Bridget is dealing with that on top of her own problems. Being an only child, Bridget has to ping pong back and forth between her mother and father, and she has some wonderful scenes with both apart, and together. Bridget’s friends are endearing and humorous (James Callis, Shirley Henderson, and Sally Phillips) and I would have loved to have seen more of them as we do in the book.

Honestly, I never get tired of watching this movie. Zellweger has taken on plenty of dramatic roles (and won an Oscar for Cold Mountain), but she has such talent as a comedic actress that I don’t think we get to see much of anymore. She’s a joy to watch as Bridget, even in the less entertaining sequels. This movie could have been zany and over the top, but director Sharon Maguire keeps it fresh and on pace, never trapping it within the generic confines of a typical rom-com. It probably helped that Helen Fielding (author of Bridget Jones’s Diary) and Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill) helped adapt the screenplay. There are changes from the novel, but those changes definitely work and dare I say, improve the film?

Bridget Jones’s Diary is a rom-com classic. One of the select few that do the genre justice.