She later gained widespread attention for her roles in the dramedy sports film Jerry Maguire (1996) and the comedy Nurse Betty (2000), for which she won her first Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy.
She subsequently starred in the romantic comedy Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), obtaining nominations for the Academy Award and BAFTA Award for Best Leading Actress.
One True Thing took in a modest US million in the US, Variety magazine's Todd Mc Carthy stated about Zellweger: "Projecting gravity and impatience that she hasn't shown before, Zellweger is outstanding as the smart young woman who resents the interruption to her life’s momentum but ends up growing in ways she never would have expected." It revolves around a Rhode Island state trooper with split-personality disorder named Charlie, played by Carrey, who is assigned to escort Irene from Rhode Island to Massena, New York, to face what she believes is a false hit-and-run accusation set up by her mob-connected ex-boyfriend.
The film, released in 2000, was a commercial success, in which she played a Kansas waitress who suffers a nervous breakdown after witnessing her husband's murder, and starts obsessively pursuing her favorite soap actor.
Marc Savlov of Austin Chronicle applauded the main cast saying they were "all excellent in their roles" and noted that "Zellweger's character – all squeals and caged sexuality – seems a bit too close to Juliette Lewis' Mallory Knox (of Natural Born Killers) to be as fresh as it should be".
The movie had a negative critical reception but Zellweger was considered a stand out among the cast members; Rotten Tomatoes' consensus was: "Despite a terrific soundtrack and a strong early performance from Renee Zellweger, Empire Records is mostly a silly and predictable teen dramedy." Zellweger became widely known to audiences with Jerry Maguire (1996), in which she played the romantic interest of Jerry, Tom Cruise' character.
She played Jenny, a teenager who leaves a prom early with three friends who get into a car accident, which leads to their meeting a murderous family, led by the iconic Leatherface.
However, Janet Maslin of The New York Times, praised her and co-star Mc Conaughey, remarking that both "do show signs of what would soon make them famous. Zellweger, sweet and sprightly and a natural-born ditz, may be the only actress who could point a gun bravely at a killer, then simply shriek and drop it and scamper away".
In 2001, Zellweger gained the prized lead role of Bridget Jones, opposite Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, in the British romantic comedy Bridget Jones's Diary, based on the 1996 novel of the same name by Helen Fielding.
Her performance as Bridget received praise from critics with Stephen Holden of The New York Times commenting, "Ms.
Zellweger accomplishes the small miracle of making Bridget both entirely endearing and utterly real." She starred alongside Michelle Pfeiffer in the drama White Oleander, which premiered at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival and received a US theatrical release in October of the same year.
He plays Maguire with the earnestness of a man who wants to find greatness and happiness in an occupation where only success really counts.
She plays a woman who believes in this guy she loves, and reminds us that true love is about idealism." During an interview, Zellweger was reportedly asked the question of why an actress would "bother" working in a "small" film after the blockbuster success of Jerry Mc Guire, to which she responded that "she loved the idea of showing the public a more personal aspect of life" through roles like the one she played in the movie, according to entertainment website Pajiba.
PHOTOS: Check out the latest pics of Renee Zellweger Renee looked glam in a perfectly coiffed brown wig, fur coat, and kitten heels while Finn rocked a trench coat and shades.