Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason Review
It's been a month since the last entry in Bridget Jones' Diary and her life has finally changed for the better. Sure, the navel-gazing TV reporter, played once again by Renée Zellweger, is still struggling with her weight, smoking and drinking like a sailor and frequently making a fool of herself in public but, to her great relief and satisfaction, she is no longer a "singleton". Bridget is dating Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), the good-hearted lawyer who gradually won her over in the original movie from the charming but caddish Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant). Bridget adores her new man. She gazes at him while he sleeps, proudly records in her diary how many times they've shagged and tells anyone who'll listen that her boyfriend is a human rights lawyer (to which someone really ought to reply, "Great, so is Cherie Blair").
Of course, a happy couple mooning over each other doesn't make for a very eventful film so clouds soon gather in Bridget's blue sky. Her perfect relationship becomes threatened by her lack of self-esteem. Bridget loves Mark but she can't quite believe a handsome, high-flying lawyer could be happy with a slightly chubby scatterbrain as a girlfriend. She feels out of place at the social events they attend. She grows jealous of Rebecca (Jacinda Barrett), Mark's beautiful work colleague who seems to be paying him a lot of attention. If there weren't enough problems at home, an unwanted face from her past re-appears at work. Daniel Cleaver, her former boss and faithless ex-lover is now a fellow TV presenter for Bridget's production company and he wants to get back into her granny pants.
Helen Fielding's hugely successful Bridget Jones novels may seem at first glance to be ideal for film adaptation but movies based on books usually work best when the source novel has a strong, transferable story, which is why Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy have been so popular in Hollywood. The Bridget Jones books, which are written in diary form, get their appeal not from the plot, which is almost incidental, but from Fielding's comic writing, from her observations of everyday life seen through the eyes of an imperfect modern woman. The first time around, the screenwriters, including Fielding herself and Richard Curtis, tackled the original Diary by turning it into a rom com from the same mould as Curtis's previous hits, Four Weddings And A Funeral and Notting Hill. It was a good movie, with some big laughs and strong performances by Renée Zellweger and Hugh Grant, although those of us who hadn't read the book wondered at the time what all the fuss was about.
Now here's the sequel, based on Fielding's own literary follow-up, Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason and this time the transition to film hasn't been as smooth. Its predecessor's storyline was loosely based on Pride And Prejudice, with Fielding's Mark Darcy basically fulfilling the same function as Jane Austen's Mr Darcy. Though it was second hand, the story was satisfying. The sequel's is not. It more or less repeats the same basic plot, with Darcy and Cleaver again vying for Bridget's affections and proving themselves again to be either a white knight or a git. Adding to the sense of deja vu, popular scenes from the first film are replayed - Bridget's arse once again becomes the centre of a TV spot, her big pants make an appearance and Darcy and Cleaver have another public slap fight - only this time they aren't as funny. Sadly, not much in this film is funny. I did laugh at a scene where Bridget and a bitchy aquaintance try to one-up each other and a running score appears onscreen and another where Bridget's knowledge of TV trivia makes her a match for a stuffy lawyers' quiz team but mostly the movie's tone alternates uncomfortably between romantic soap opera and silly farce.
When Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason tries to play scenes as straight drama, it's difficult to care since the plot suffers from a severe lack of credibility. Let's start with Daniel Cleaver's career change. Television presenter must be the most sought after job in the country besides pop star - even the bland, annoying ones who make you want to switch channels have put in years of work to get where they are (or at least they've been on Big Brother!) - but Cleaver's gone from a desk job to presenting a hit holiday programme in a matter of weeks. Couldn't Helen Fielding or the screenwriters have found a more plausible way to bring him back into Bridget's life?
The details of Bridget and Mark's relationship troubles also ring false. She embarasses him at a law society dinner by calling a pompous lawyer holding forth about the homeless a "balding, upper middle class Tory", prompting the entire room full of balding, upper middle class Tories to turn and stare at her. But wait a minute, are all top lawyers stereotype Conservatives? Don't any of them vote Labour, if only out of gratitude for all the extra work? Wouldn't human rights lawyers like Mark and his colleagues agree with Bridget's sentiments and defend her? And who is she to talk about wealth and privilege anyway when her flat, which is one minute's walk from London Bridge, must be worth half a million pounds? Then there's Mark's thin, leggy, 22-year-old work colleague, with whom we're supposed to wonder if he's having an affair. Since we aren't idiots and we know the noble Mark Darcy couldn't possibly be a love rat, we wait patiently to learn the real reason she's hanging around him. When it comes, oh boy, is it a howler! And all of this seems almost credible next to what happens to Bridget on assignment in Thailand.
While the cast is one of the movie's assets, I had the same problem with the central romantic triangle that I did when I saw the first film, the problem being that Colin Firth, a fine actor, makes a miserable and deathly dull romantic hero. His Mark Darcy has the air of a grumpy schoolteacher and he looks at Bridget like a slow pupil rather than the love of his life. There's no sexual chemistry there at all. We're supposed to cheer Darcy and boo the rotten Cleaver but Hugh Grant makes such a funny and charismatic bastard that for the second time, I found myself rooting for him, wanting Bridget to tame him and make him change his naughty ways, as Rachel Weisz did in About A Boy, rather than dump him for the gloomy Darcy. Renée Zellweger is as impressive as before in the title role, having again piled on the pounds and mastered a Home Counties accent that puts Gwyneth to shame. She makes the most of the good moments she's been given but she's put in so much effort for such a weak film that I felt a little sorry for her. Imagine if De Niro had gone to the lengths he did to play Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull and it had turned out like Analyze That.
Also worth noting: this movie has the most intrusive pop soundtrack I've ever heard. Since Wet Wet Wet's huge number one, "Love Is All Around" helped make Four Weddings And A Funeral a smash hit, Working Title have always used a lot of pop music on their films, typically mixing standards from the seventies and eighties with adult-friendly chart tunes (ie: Sugababes, not 50 Cent). This time they've surpassed themselves. Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason plays like an advert for its soundtrack album, which has twenty tracks, all of which are showcased at least once. The filmmakers won't settle for using one song to score a scene when they can use snippets from three. There are recent hits from Jamelia, Beyonce, The Darkness and Kylie Minogue, classics by Aretha Franklin, Carly Simon, Barry White and 10CC and covers by Will Young, Mary J Blige, Amy Winehouse and Jamie Cullum. Not only is that list as uninspired as it is commercial, but few of the songs add anything. It sounds at times like someone is in the projection booth with a radio, switching back and forth between Radio 1 and Magic FM.