Loveless in London

Bridget Jones’s Diary

Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones: You’ve got mail!

Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones: You’ve got mail!

Rated 2.0

Journalist Helen Fielding’s popular 1996 British novel, Bridget Jones’s Diary, began—like TV’s Sex and the City—as a newspaper column. Its legion of English fans was thrilled when word circulated that the travails of the modern, weight-conscious, lovelorn thirty-something career woman was to be made into a movie. That elation soon soured into screams of blasphemy when the trans-oceanic casting of Renee Zellweger as Bridget was announced.

I sympathized with the opponents of this cross-cultural coupling. Jarring images of John Wayne as Genghis Khan, Natalie Wood as a Hispanic in West Side Story, Marlon Brando as an Okinawan in The Teahouse of the August Moon and Jennifer Lopez as an Italian in The Wedding Planner immediately popped to mind. My voice joined the chorus: Where’s Kate Winslett when you really need her? After all, her own “singleton” love life and weight challenges following that naked stretch on a couch in Titanic made her a natural Bridget candidate.

Meanwhile, Zellweger went about her business like a true pro. She added 20 pounds to her lithe Texan frame and replaced her normal drawl (with help from Gwyneth Paltrow’s former dialogue coach) with a competent English accent, quite readily turning all premature detractors into Chicken Littles.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that her performance is much more impressive than the movie in which she stars.

The film begins with Bridget attending a countryside Christmas party. Her mom tries to set her up with human rights attorney Mark Darcy (played by Colin Firth, who reportedly lost 28 pounds while Renee was fattening up). His stuffiness and the large reindeer head on the front of his sweater put her off. Her social coarseness (she’s a heavy drinker and smoker with a barroom vocabulary) put him off. The pairing is obviously a bust or a soon-to-flower attraction of opposites, but the film so far has failed to make me care on which loves-me, loves-me-not petal this film ends.

Bridget returns to her London flat, her job as a publishing PR person and her disheartening love life. Due to the holiday snubbing, she takes fresh charge of her life. She documents her consumption of booze, calories and nicotine in a diary “to mark a triumphant year in which everything stops being shit.” She strives to find a sensible bloke to date and not form romantic attachments to the following: “alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional fuckwits or perverts.” It’s a rule she immediately violates with her lecher of a boss (a smooth and slimy Hugh Grant). Their You’ve Got (office) Mail affair (“p.s. Love your tits in that top,” he flirts) escalates into sex. I laugh a bit at some of the slapstick involved in this fling but the film fails to establish a strong emotional or narrative thrust.

The script by Fielding, Andrew Davies (who wrote the Pride and Prejudice miniseries) and Richard Curtis (Notting Hill) wants to talk about the modern woman’s quest to sort Mr. Right from Mr. Wrong and her battles with self-esteem, but trips over several coincidental and unconvincing plot points. Bridget, an appallingly bad public speaker, gets a job as a TV reporter while struggling through an on-again, off-again contact with both Darcy and her boss, Cleaver. A weak subplot evolves as her mother leaves her father (the excellent Jim Broadbent stuck with making long, sad faces) for a stint as assistant and lover to a Shopping Channel pitchman.

Under the direction of Sharon Maguire, Diary moves along at a palatable pace. Zellweger boldly bares her new cellulite while chasing love down a snowy street in leopard print panties, vacuuming in her underwear, singing “All By Myself” loudly on a sofa, and fantasizing—in spasms of overactive Ally McBeal-like imagination—about being eaten alive by dogs. The major disappointment here is that the entire film feels just as superficial and mundane as most of its characters. The real heart of the story feels more embedded in the Van Morrison songs on the soundtrack than in the movie itself.