Every couple of months it seems a movie comes out featuring “thirtysomething” women looking for that dream guy who has escaped them their whole lives. “Sweet November,” “The Wedding Planner,” “You’ve Got Mail” or pretty much any movie with Meg Ryan falls into this category. In the business, they’re called “romantic comedies,” but to the cynic, there’s just one useful phrase: chick flicks.

Thankfully, though, “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” the latest romantic comedy, is well ahead of the pack. It escapes the predictable pitfalls and idealistic romantic yearnings of chick flick-dom, utilizing believable characters and deadpan British humor to separate itself. In placing the film’s tone and emphasis more on comedic elements than romantic ones, director Sharon Maguire avoids all the sentimentality which is the pitfall of the genre and creates an appealing, engrossing environment.

All this is possible due to the vividness of Bridget Jones’ character and the full depiction of her by Renee Zellweger. Jones is not the prim, pretty, well-behaved, shy girl who cannot find a man like the typical female protagonist of romantic-comedies. She’s a beer-swilling, chain-smoking, see-through-blouse-wearing dame with awkward social skills and is even a bit overweight. “Bridget Jones’ Diary” is a chick flick, but its British flair and sublimity make it well worth sitting through.

The film opens as manless, loveless Jones is at a holiday party at her parents’ house. Always trying to set her up, her “mum” introduces her to Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), a cold but successful lawyer who quickly forms the opinion that the babbling Jones is a loser. His rejection has a galvanizing effect upon Jones, and she starts a diary chronicling her thoughts on love. Soon Jones is able to win the affection of her boss Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), who also turns out to be an acquaintance of Darcy’s. Before long Jones’ outlandishness starts to pique the lawyer’s interest, and a bizarre love triangle ensues. Once scorned, Jones now finds herself as the center of a curious amount of attention.

Based on Helen Fiedling’s best-selling novel, Maguire’s feature-length debut is a real crowd pleaser. The dynamic between Zellweger, Grant and Firth really keeps the momentum of the film going. Prone to understatement and sly entendres, Grant and Firth create themselves as confused and believable men, who, like most people, are not quite sure what they want. Following the ways all three characters’ confusion intersects is the main strength of the film.

Firth, who played contemptible types so well in “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love,” seems to have wrapped up the part of the stoic and icy type, and he puts in a fine, coy performance in the film. Unlike the other characters, we never quite know what he is thinking or what his intentions really are.

Toward the end, the movie does drag a bit. The film stays in the same dimension for the entire duration, and when Jones does one of her klutzy spills or says something a bit deviant it no longer seems that funny. Maguire has one pleasing gimmick up her sleeve, but she uses it over and over again. Despite its single dimension, “Bridget Jones’ Diary” makes a good contribution to the ever-expanding genre of romantic comedy.