Pity poor Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger). She's the 1990s British everywoman: single, weight-obsessed, and very probably drunk on mid-price white wine. Her life goes from middling to worse when she embarks on a doomed affair with silver-tongued boss Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). In the background lurks a literal Mr Darcy (Colin Firth), a seemingly cold lawyer who keeps crossing Bridget's path but whose precise intentions seem hard for her to divine. All the while Bridget records her lurches across life's highway in the eponymous diary, as an attempt to take control of her tragi-comic life.
Featuring a blousy, winningly inept size-12 heroine, Bridget Jones's Diary
is a fetching adaptation of Helen Fielding's runaway bestseller
, grittier than Ally McBeal
but sweeter than Sex and the City
. The normally sylphlike Renée Zellweger (Nurse Betty
, Me, Myself and Irene
) wolfed pasta to gain poundage to play "singleton" Bridget, a London-based publicist who divides her free time between binge eating in front of the TV, downing Chardonnay with her friends and updating the diary in which she records her negligible weight fluctuations and romantic misadventures of the year. Things start off badly at Christmas when her mother tries to set her up with seemingly standoffish lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), whom Bridget accidentally overhears "dissing" her. Instead she embarks on a disastrous liaison with her raffish boss, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant, infinitely more likable when he's playing a baddie instead of his patented tongue-tied fops). Eventually, Bridget comes to wonder if she's let her pride prejudice her against the surprisingly attractive Mr Darcy.
If the plot sounds familiar, that's because Fielding's novel was itself a retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, whose romantic male lead is Mr Darcy. An extra ironic poke in the ribs is added by the casting of Firth, who played Austen's haughty hero in the acclaimed BBC adaptation of Austen's novel. First-time director Sharon Maguire directs with confident comic zest, while Zellweger twinkles charmingly, fearlessly baring her cellulite and pulling off a spot-on English accent. Like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill (both of which were written by this film's co-screenwriter, Richard Curtis), Bridget Jones's stock-in-trade is a very English self-deprecating sense of humour, a mild suspicion of Americans (especially if they're thin and successful) and a subtly expressed analysis of thirtysomething fears about growing up and becoming a "smug married". The whole is, as Bridget would say, v. good. --Leslie Felperin