A week after having seen Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, no memory of it remains save some scribblings in my notepad, such is the slight nature of this woeful, forgettable sequel. Squandering the goodwill that lingers from the original, now a beloved relic among the singletons and smug marrieds for whom book and movie play like Holy Scripture, this inevitable offering has all the charm of a canceled CBS sitcom. It even has the feel of four episodes mashed into a single sitting; with its nutty doings and zany antics, including a scene in which Bridget ineptly skis down a mountain right into a pharmacy’s front door so she can buy a pregnancy test, all it lacks are commercial breaks and a laugh track, the latter being most sorely missed, since this is a comedy that doesn’t seem terribly interested in being funny, which isn’t to be confused with wacky, a fact lost on the four writers it took to cook up so bland a stew. Not that that has stopped The Edge of Reason from testing well with audiences, for whom the slightly overweight, self-doubting, Silk Cuts chain-smoker is like cinematic comfort food in these testy times. But there is no accounting for taste; just ask John Kerry.
It would be wholly inaccurate to call this an adaptation of Helen Fielding’s 1999 best-seller; mutilation is more like it, since this version is bereft of the wit, charm, insight, and politics of the book. With its catalogue of popular-culture signposts — from Tony Blair to the Teletubbies, impossibly titled self-help books to Thelma and Louise, Nick Hornby to Oprah Winfrey — the novel at least had the feeling of being written by someone who lives in the real world. The movie, written in part by Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually) and Andrew Davies, who contributed to the 2001 original, refers only to itself and its progenitor; the whole enterprise is vacuum-sealed, a place in which no one can breathe much less utter a line of dialogue that feels vaguely genuine, emotional, or honest. It’s more than a pity; it’s a crime, since The Edge of Reason is a far darker, meatier, and funnier book than its adored predecessor. (And, sadly, the movie must do without Bridget’s fawning, fumbling interview of Colin Firth to promote Fever Pitch, since Firth is already here, of course, as Mr. Wonderful, human-rights attorney Mark Darcy.)
Director Beeban Kidron, whose movies (Used People, Swept from the Sea) have always felt like bland sitcoms, and the screenwriters (Fielding among them) seem to believe movie audiences cannot (or will not) endure the complexities and ambiguities of print, so they have excised all the interesting bits contained in the book and amplified all the dimmer ones. They’ve opted instead to fill the movie with gags to gag on, choosing slapstick over satire and rendering a clumsy woman more than a little dumb this go-round. Bridget, again played by Renée Zellweger, with twenty added pounds that were surely shed before the film was even edited, isn’t even very likable this time. The screenwriters have stripped her of charm, of the combustible concoction of confidence tinged with ungainliness that made her a relatable, sympathetic heroine. Here she is merely self-destructive, sabotaging her relationship with Mark the way a schoolgirl would — over a misunderstanding she has neither the skill nor patience to resolve.
Worst of all, The Edge of Reason prefers to rehash the original, almost note for note, down to the joke about Bridget’s enormous underpants. But it does have one upside: more Hugh Grant as Daniel Cleaver, who surfaces as a globetrotting reporter for the same network that employs Bridget as its clown princess of journalism. (Early on, she parachutes out of a plane and lands directly in a pen of pig shit, which is but one of countless insults piled upon Bridget throughout a movie that seems determined to make her look more hopeless than hapless.) It’s Grant who gets the best lines and who makes the words he’s asked to speak seem more authentic. When first he spies Bridget in a videotape library, he asks her if she has yet wed Mark — because, he tells her through the lothario’s leer, “you know what a fan I am of any woman married to Mark Darcy.” In a movie populated by the dippy and drippy, the cad has to fend off no one to steal the show.
What made Bridget Jones’s Diary so appealing was that it felt a wee bit authentic. The very audiences who adored it did so because they recognized a bit of Bridget in themselves, the lack of willpower and self-control commingling with the desire to sex it up and work it out. But The Edge of Reason is too daft and dim to register, especially by the time it lands Bridget first on Fantasy Island with Daniel and then in a Thai prison for a Madonna sing-along with a cell full of prostitutes, an event that merits only a few pages in the novel but eats up a huge chunk of the movie’s third act. Or at least that’s what it says in my notepad; damned if I remember any of it.