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BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY (2001) (***1/2)

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Helen Fielding adapts her own novel, which was inspired by Jane Austen's PRIDE & PREJUDICE. I guess in some way all love stories since Jane Austen have been influenced by Jane Austen. Some fans of Fielding's book grumbled when hot American starlet Renee Zellweger was cast in the very British role. But she truly makes the character her own. She becomes Bridget Jones and we love her for it.

Zellweger plays the chucky British gal, who is desperately looking for Mr. Right, with pluck and no shame. Bridget makes a New Year's resolution that she will get her life into order through moderation. Less smoking, less drinking, less eating, more snogging. Zellweger is wonderfully backed up by Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. Grant plays her dashing co-worker Daniel Cleaver, who we know from the start is a cad; but it's Hugh Grant so he's too charming to ignore. Bridget meets Firth's Mark Darcy at a Christmas party, one in which he so desperately wants to leave. He seems like a boring snob, so we know Bridget is destined to be with him, because you shouldn't judge a book by its hideous Christmas sweater, and if you know Austen then you know his last name is a clue.

The story sounds pretty standard, but the film rises above your regular romantic comedy. Bridget's weight issue is addressed in a more natural way than I've ever really seen on screen. Zellweger isn't really fat — she's overweight at most — but she thinks she's fat. Its effect on her relationships is more in her head than anything else. In her attempt to address her flaws, Bridget goes through a period of self-discovery and, time and time again, great humiliation. Bridget seems to screw up at every turn, but it's they way she soldiers through these embarrassments with her chin up that makes her so irresistibly charming. You make quite an impression when you show up in full costume to a shindig that really isn't a Tart & Vicars party. When Bridget stumbles into television, she makes striking first impression on viewers.

And guess what? It's a comedy that actually makes you laugh. Its situational humor is natural and not forced. The laughs come from the situations, not from forced jokes inserted by a screenwriter because he thinks he's writing a comedy. Plus, it has the best use of the song "It's Raining Men" that you'll ever see.

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Rick DeMott
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