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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A Bridget too far -- and too flabby

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)
Director: Beeban Kidron
Running time: 108 minutes
Language: English,
Opens March 19
[See Japan Times movie listings]

Way back in the 1990s, in "Bridget Jones' Diary" (a novel penned by British writer Helen Fielding), Bridget was the definitive fairy-tale princess for the urban working woman: She gave us reason to hope -- no, to believe -- that in spite of a few extra kilos around the thighs and upper arms, the inability to cook and clean, an addiction to cigarettes and Cadbury's chocolate, there is some gorgeous, successful man out there to sweep us off our somewhat swollen feet (darn those mules) and declare their love for us, forever.

News photo
Renee Zellweger in "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason"

We couldn't wait. Snow White and Cinderella? Oh, those were the products of medieval, masculine minds that delighted in pressuring womankind with examples of thin, beautiful, domestic goddesses. Bah! Or as Bridget would say: "Huh!"

"Bridget Jones' Diary" -- the 2001 movie -- was much like the heroine herself, with a high comfort factor and a springy buoyancy that lifted the new-millenium-still-single blues. All the women I know agreed that Renee Zellweger as Bridget looked a lot sexier when she put on weight just for this role, and during the final scenes when she runs on snowy London streets after gorgeous, successful lawyer Mark Darcy in nothing but a sweater and a very nice (if undersized) pair of underpants, well the theater just erupted in tears and cheers. The plump and sloppy girl got the guy! Take that, Brothers Grimm!

Now, three years later, "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" picks up where the first story left off -- and opens with Bridget and Mark about six weeks and "71 ecstatic shags" into their relationship after that dramatic embrace in the snow. Something however, is amiss.

Though the tagline assures us that it's the "same Bridget, brand new diary" -- Bridget, or to be more accurate her cellulite -- has changed drastically. They've expanded and increased, and in the space of just six short weeks Bridget looks about 7 kg heavier (which kind of contradicts her maxim that sex is the best form of dieting), and there's a bleary laziness to her movements that hadn't been there before. Her carelessness is carried to extremes: greasy hair, roughed-up skin and an outfit that could have been put on while she stood in a wind tunnel. Her conversations have dwindled into pouts and one-liners and her once-hilarious but endearing escapades have donned the mantle of weary slapstick.

Director Beeban Kidron ("To Wong Foo: Thanks for Everything. Love, Julie Newmar") is known for blending feminist sentiments with comedy, but in this, she resorts to woman-humiliating antics like Bridget (who's a TV presenter) parachuting out of plane and landing butt-first into a pigsty. Bridget showing up at a party given by Mark's colleagues in a ridiculously tight dress and face caked in enough blusher to dye a crate of candied apples. Bridget attempting to ski, and then . . .

Through it all, Mark loves her devotedly, but Bridget is suspicious of the slender, twentysomething Rebecca (Jacinda Barrett) working in his office. Subsequent jealous arguments sends a huffy Bridget off on a solo vacation to Thailand where she is imprisoned on a mistaken drug charge. Here (undoubtedly intended to be the climax scene), the plucky Bridget leads her fellow inmates on a rendition of "Like a Virgin," looking ever more bloated and oily by the minute.

We loved Bridget because she was real and funny and warm, but in "The Edge of Reason" she's pushed to the very precipice of, um, rational filmmaking, and she falls over with a resounding thud.

What was the director thinking? Isn't the whole point of feminism about restoring dignity to women? The least Kidron could have done was make Bridget look a bit more enticing, but her face is highlighted by the most unflattering of lights and the camera is placed at weird angles, like right underneath her substantial chin. You don't know whether you're watching a movie, or one of those spreads in People magazine that show stars caught without makeup, hungover, and in between diets.

The bright spot is Hugh Grant as Daniel Cleaver, who was hugely entertaining in the original film as the suave womanizer who had an arsenal of caustic but sexy quips at his disposal. He drove Bridget crazy, loved her, shagged her and then discarded her. In "Edge of Reason" he's back, hoping for one last fling with his plump darling whom he describes with typical flair as "the best shag ever."

Unfortunately, his screen-time is cut down to under 20 minutes and a lot of that precious time is expended on a silly public fight with Mark (an unimaginative repetition from the first movie) over "who gets Bridget." But with Bridget looking and acting the way she does, the whole proceedings are less like a fairy tale than just plain bizarre.

Why didn't someone do a "making of" documentary to accompany this, in which Zellweger shows us all how she manages to inflate and deflate her body with ease. That would be much more compelling than Bridget's relationship angst and it would have made "Supersize Me" seem like a wimpish exercise in futility.

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