UNIVERSAL PLIGHTS 

UNIVERSAL PLIGHTS

When Renee Zellweger was cast as the stumbly, bumbly title character in the film version of Helen Fielding s wildly successful Bridget Jones s Diary, there was some xenophobic grumbling that this American could not play such a resolutely English figure. But this bit of thinking ignores the fact thatBridget Jones s Diary flew off the shelves in England and the U.S., for Bridget Jones plight is universal or if not universal, maddeningly common. Fielding zeroed in wickedly on poor Bridget, a lovely enough woman, albeit a smidge puffy from too much booze, cigarettes, and sweets, and drew her as one of the more pitied creatures of our time: the unmarried woman in her 30s. Sure, Bridget s got a good enough job doing P.R. for a publishing house; she s got friends; she s even got a decent relationship with her folks. But without a man well, as the smug marrieds say, tick tock. This is where Zellweger comes in. If she s not a natural comedienne, then she s certainly game. The weight added to her bony frame doesn’t necessarily make her fat, but she does jiggle. And she trips. And she drunkenly sings. And she blurts out inappropriate notions only to garble some more until she mumbles to a red-faced silence. For Bridget, life is a series of humiliations punctuated by small triumphs followed by worse humiliations. In the novel, Bridget seeks a cure by thumbing through self-help books aimed at bringing inner-poise. For the paper Bridget, attaining that poise would be akin to her suddenly sprouting wings and flying. Yet, through some accident of DNA or perhaps a sunny upbringing, Zellweger oozes poise. Even as the sloshed Bridget falls face first out of a cab, Zellweger is the very picture of poise. Perhaps the filmmakers first-time director Sharon Maguire and writers Fielding, Four Weddings and a Funeral s Andrew Davies, and Emma s Richard Curtis recognized this unfortunate trait in Zellweger and fairly excised the word. They streamlined the book, reducing Bridget s maniacal diary-entry list-making and omitting a complicated plot twist involving her mother. Instead, they focus to good effect on the follies of poor unmarried Bridget, on those tiny insults that are unfortunate though utterly amusing. Bridget doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve. She wears it in the form of a delicate charm dangling from a chain around her neck. The film opens on New Year s Day. Bridget, hungover, is attending her parents’ annual turkey curry buffet and is feeling chagrined at being cajoled by her mother into wearing a matronly, ruffle-collared outfit and being introduced to her neighbor s son, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), a distinguished lawyer who greets her with disdain. No matter, for the next day she strolls into work wearing an impossibly short skirt that is met with flirty and dirty e-mails from her deliciously naughty boss, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). Emboldened and proactive, Bridget returns the next day in the same skirt and a see-through top. One thing leads to another, Daniel sees her girdle, and they jump into bed. The only things spoiling Bridget s coital bliss are the frequent run-ins with Mark Darcy, who seems to judge her with his tight lips, and the fact that her mother has left her father to take a job on a home-shopping program and to take up with an overly tan foreigner. There s more, of course, since nothing can ever be easy for Bridget. She is a walking disaster with a self-effacing charm that we can t help but root for. Poise aside, Zellweger takes all the embarrassment, soldiering on, drink in one hand, cig in the other. Grant is well-cast as the devastating Daniel Cleaver, while Firth smartly takes on Mark Darcy as the alter-ego of Bridget, correct where she is off, reserved where she is bubbly, so that they click just so.

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