If the prospect of spending two hours with an insecure, completely average, office-bound single woman in London makes you scream in panic, then don't worry - you're not alone. The praise heaped on the book Bridget Jones's Diary by the women's press, the casting of Hugh Grant and the writing credit for Richard Four Weddings And A Funeral Curtis should make most blokes scarper: bundle them together and they ought to guarantee a male-free audience. Yet amazingly Bridget Jones the movie succeeds as a very funny rom-com. Not just funny to fans of the novel or Hugh Grant groupies or girls wanting an empathetic weep at the woes of the titular heroine... Just funny full stop. For everyone.
If you had to speculate about how it's avoided being the intelligence-insulting mulch that Notting Hill was, the best guess is that this is not a solo Richard Curtis project. Sure, the Christmases portrayed are always white, Bridget's urban `family' of bar-bound friends smack of those limp stereo-types from Four Weddings and the movie cherry-picks the most photogenic London locations without any concern for geographical accuracy - but Helen Fielding's original thirtysomething left-on-the-shelf angst shines through. No matter how much it's been polished for an American market (Jones vows to lose "20 pounds" rather than "a stone-and-a-half") or how often tweeness threatens to intervene, it remains refreshingly bitter and cynical in a way that Four Weddings and its tedious progeny never were.
All worries that Yankster Renée Zellweger was the wrong girl for the job are dispelled in moments. With a spot-on plummy Brit accent, a tremendous capacity for pratfalls and those distinctly un-Hollywood extra pounds, Zellweger looks so ordinary that when she moans that she hasn't had "the faintest whiff of a shag in 18 months" you can believe her.
Which makes Bridget Jones's Diary a date movie with a little bit of bite: an al dente romance with enough old-fashioned storytelling and big wobbly laughs to please anyone with a yearning to be entertained. And while not quite witty, observant or original enough to be the female equivalent of High Fidelity (which was a sort of male chick flick), it's definitely covering similar territory.
It also, rather neatly, plays up Fielding's reinterpretation of Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice to the extent that Bridget quotes Austen's "universal truth" line while TV's Mr Darcy (Colin Firth) is cast as - a-ha-ha! - arrogant lawyer Mark Darcy. It's clearly no coincidence that co-writer Andrew Davies adapted Pride And Prejudice for the telly in the first place.
Will it educate the masses that romantic doesn't equate with mindless? That Englishness doesn't necessarily mean stately homes and punting down the Thames? That film stars don't have to be so thin that their collar bones jut painfully from lollipop necks barely capable of supporting their own heads? Here's hoping the answer to all of these questions is yes...
Simple, joyful entertainment for all springing from a book about a woman who thinks her bum looks big in this. By making it a story first, a comedy second and a romance last, Bridget Jones' Diary manages to win as all three. It deserves to pack the punters in including men.
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