It began as a newspaper column. Then it became a book. Now it's a movie. And somewhere in there it turned into a full-fledged phenomenon. In book form, Bridget Jones's Diary, which takes us through one year in the life of a British thirtysomething who prefers the word "singleton" over "spinster," has had trouble bearing the weight heaped upon its bony shoulders. It wasn't supposed to define an era, but that's what happens when you sell over four million copies. Somehow, the lowly Bridget, who begins each diary entry with a calorie/alcohol/cigarette count for the day, has become heir to the Cosmo-girl throne previously occupied by everyone from Mary Richards to Ally McBeal. But is that fair? Couldn't she be allowed to pursue "inner poise" in private?
Apparently not. Helen Fielding's comic novel is, above all, a fun read ' a hilariously meticulous dissection of a woman who mocks the whole idea of happily ever after while succumbing to it. But by making Bridget's private thoughts public (and, let's face it, half the fun of the book is snooping through the underwear drawer of Bridget's mind), Fielding opens her protagonist up for questioning. Is Bridget pre- or postfeminist? An everywoman or an overgrown teenager?
I'll leave those to you, but I'd like to point out that Renee Zellweger wasn't my first choice to play Bridget (Minnie Driver, anyone?), and not just because she's American. Actually, she handles the British accent with aplomb, except when she raises her voice. But Zellweger is always a little smudgy on screen; she looks and acts like a kid who's just gotten out of bed. And the book's Bridget, for all her smudginess, knows how to cut through the crap. Though entertaining, and though given a nice bounce by first-time director Sharon Maguire, the movie has softened the book's edges, turned it into a transatlantic romantic comedy Ã la Four Weddings and a Funeral. Speaking of which, Hugh Grant does a wonderful turn as Bridget's employee-shagging boss.
It's great to see Grant play a heel for a change, although his character's been softened, too. Only Colin Firth, as Bridget's dark and stormy knight in shining armor, has made the transition from page to screen unscathed. Luckily, Maguire has surrounded the leads with a large and able supporting cast, including Salman Rushdie playing himself. That the author of Satanic Verses would come out of hiding to be near Bridget Jones suggests that her appeal, like her ability to lose and gain weight, knows no bounds.