What a difference a script makes!
“Bridget Jones’s Diary” has essentially the same plot as Ashley Judd’s recent “Someone Like You” — and, for that matter, as dozens of other movies. Women’s boyfriend turns out to be a louse, she starts to love a different guy she’d never thought of romantically before, the louse tries to win her back but by now she has chosen the second guy, cheesy love song on the soundtrack, roll credits.
What makes “Bridget Jones” inifintely better than “Someone Like You” is that the script, written by Helen Fielding and Richard Curtis (based on Fielding’s novel), is full of glib characters and dry British wit. And director Sharon Maguire demonstrates a knack for keeping things lively without using obtrusive gimmicks — a little visual nudge here and there is all it takes to let us know she’s there.
Renee Zellweger plays the title character, a 30-ish Londoner who starts a diary as a New Year’s resolution. Among her other resolutions is one to meet a “nice, sensible boyfriend.” She would seem to have done this with Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), her smug, smart-aleck boss at the publishing firm she works for. The sex is great, and Daniel is intelligent but down to earth. (While discussing poetry, Daniel shouts, “F*** me, I love Keats!”)
The two of them keep bumping into Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), a childhood acquaintance whom Bridget’s dotty mum (Gemma Jones) is trying to set her up with. Mark is dour and seems to find Bridget stupid; Bridget, for her part, can’t put together a coherent sentence in his presence. Plus, she learns, Mark stole away Daniel’s old fiancee, the jerk.
When the time comes for Bridget for ditch Daniel and begin to notice Mark (we won’t spoil why that happens), it is worth noting that Mark does not seem like much of an alternative. Slowly, though, and thanks to some subtle character work from Colin Firth, he comes into focus as a viable option.
Zellweger nails the British accent perfectly and is a wonderful Bridget Jones: vulnerable and innocent, but strong when she needs to be. (“Respect” and “I’m Every Woman” are two songs that appear on the soundtrack at very appropriate moments.)
The movie does fall into sitcom cliche world with a botched dinner party that Mark rescues in the nick of time, only to have Daniel show up — but that stock situation turns into a hilarious fistfight between the two men, both of whom have clearly never fought before.
There’s also a very protracted conclusion, where we know exactly what’s going to happen but are forced to sit through five more minutes of resolution.
But in all, this is a funny, breezy film with likable characters (even Daniel the louse is nice, in his way) and a sympathetic heroine. Acting, directing, yeah, it’s all great. But here, the screenplay is where it’s at.
B+ (; )