The ''Jerry Maguire'' sweetheart seems too nice to play the caustic British screwball, says Liane Bonin

Renee Zellweger, Bridget Jones's Diary
Credit: Bridget Jones's Diary: Alex Bailey

Why Renee Zellweger isn’t perfect as ”Bridget”

When Renée Zellweger was cast as the hard drinking, chain smoking bundle of neuroses in the screen adaptation of ”Bridget Jones’s Diary,” fans of the novel promptly declared the decision, as the heroine would write, a v.v. bad one. The ”Jerry Maguire” star was too scrawny and too cheerfully American to fill Jones’ shoes, they argued. How could she capture Bridget’s snarky imperfections?

But it seems all those cranky critics softened up as soon as the actress packed on 20 odd pounds and Londoned up her lingo for the role. Even ”Bridget” author Helen Fielding gave Zellweger a thumbs up, and reviewers on both sides of the channel followed suit (EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum declared that Zellweger is ”thoroughly charming and believably British in the role”).

And now my question is: What movie are these people watching? Don’t get me wrong — I like Zellweger, and the bone I have to pick with her has nothing to do with her weight or her accent. I’ll gladly admit that in the right role she positively shimmers with star quality. In ”Maguire,” that Moon Pie face and those squinched up eyes broke our hearts before a single line of dialogue was uttered. And even miscast as she is in ”Bridget,” she certainly deserves an A for effort. Her Londonese is convincing enough for these American ears, and when Jones gets her heart trod on over the course of the movie, Zellweger perfectly captures Bridget’s aching humiliation.

But let’s face it. Zellweger is just too cuddly to portray Jones’ rough edges. In the book, the character possesses a biting wit and a knack for self destruction (”Alcohol units 6, cigarettes 25, calories 3800,” kicks off a typical diary entry), but Zellweger can’t help but bring a Pollyanna pluck to even Jones’ darkest moments. Whether she likes it or not, she exudes the kind of ”can do” spunk that Jones tries desperately (and fails hopelessly) to achieve in each page of her journal.

Take the opening of the film, in which Zellweger chugs a bottle of vodka (dressed in an adorable pajama set) and wallows in her lonely misery by crooning ”All By Myself.” The result should be funny and bittersweet, but the actress (who, with the exception of some sizable cleavage, seems to have gained the whole 20 pounds in that round little face of hers) merely looks like a 4 year old misbehaving after being sent to her room. Giving the actress a stringy, uncombed hairdo (a feeble attempt to externalize Bridget’s inner chaos) only succeeds in making Zellweger look like a wholesome child with extremely bad hygiene. And her stint as a ”wanton sex goddess” with a bad boy Hugh Grant is an even tougher sell. I’d sooner imagine Zellweger setting herself on fire than shagging with reckless abandon.

Maybe I wouldn’t be grumbling so much if there weren’t so many other actresses who have the Jonesian qualities Zellweger lacks. Kate Winslet, who seemed custom made to walk in Jones’ fumbling footsteps, reportedly turned the part down, but Rachel Weisz (”The Mummy”) and Minnie Driver are Brits who could have nailed the role in their sleep. And Fielding’s own suggestion that the filmmakers consider an unknown may have been the best idea yet. One has to wonder if the perfect Bridget was simply overlooked in the name of marquee value.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time filmmakers shoehorned an A list actress into the wrong role in the belief that audiences would rather see someone familiar than the best player for the part. These days the casting mindset is simple: If an actress is famous and talented, she has all the skills she needs to shapeshift into any role thanks to CGI, a clever makeup artist, and the low standards of ticket buyers. Just note Gwyneth Paltrow’s recent casting as a 300 pound frump in the upcoming Farrelly Brothers movie ”Shallow Hal.” A fat suit, a little makeup, and voila! We’re supposed to believe glamorous Gwynnie is an obese outcast? As Bridget herself might put it, ”Typical Hollywood f—wittage.”

Bridget Jones's Diary

  • Movie
  • R
  • 92 minutes