This Movie Changed Me

Samantha Powell

Bridget Jones’s Diary

Last Updated

May 29, 2018


Original Air Date

May 29, 2018

For Samantha Powell, the pressure to be the perfect adult felt like a stranglehold. But this all changed with Bridget Jones’s Diary. The movie loosened the grip of perfectionism, and taught her she didn’t need to be flawless to be happy.

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Image of Samantha Powell

Samantha Powell is a writer and prolific tweeter. She writes about fashion, movies, and books, and her work has appeared at Complex, The Cut, and Racked. She dreams of one day writing a book about the history of the handshake. Find her work at samanthadpowell.com.

Transcript

Lily Percy, host: Hello, fellow movie fans. I’m Lily Percy, and I’ll be your guide this week as I talk with writer Samantha Powell about the movie that changed her life, Bridget Jones’s Diary. If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t worry. We’re going to give you all the details you need to follow along — and hopefully you’ll be quoting the movie in no time at all.

[music: “All By Myself” by Jamie O’Neal from Bridget Jones’s Diary: Music from the Motion Picture]

Ms. Percy: When I think about Bridget Jones’s Diary, I think about Renée Zellweger sitting alone in her apartment on New Year’s, listening to Celine Dion; Sad FM. I think about all the feelings of loneliness and the idea that you’re going to die alone, eaten by dogs.

[excerpt from Bridget Jones’s Diary]

[music: “All By Myself” by Jamie O’Neal, from Bridget Jones’s Diary: Music from the Motion Picture]

Ms. Percy: Bridget Jones’s Diary is about a woman, named Bridget Jones, who is struggling in her early 30s to find a man, to find out who she is in her own life, to find a career that really satisfies her and challenges her and actually exhibits the gifts that she has. And she’s doing all of this while living in London and navigating the publishing world, which is where she currently works with the very dashing, but very dirty, Daniel Cleaver.

[music: “Don’t Get Me Wrong” by The Pretenders, from Bridget Jones’s Diary: Music from the Motion Picture]

[excerpt from Bridget Jones’s Diary]

Ms. Percy: While she’s flirting with Daniel Cleaver, she meets the man of her dreams, Mark Darcy; and appropriately named Mark Darcy, because the whole movie is kind of a play on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. And in fact, Mark Darcy is played by Colin Firth, who many of us swooned over in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

[excerpt from Bridget Jones’s Diary]

Ms. Percy: I relate to Bridget Jones so much because of how imperfect she is, how flawed she is, and how she wears those flaws on her sleeve. She is loved and loving. She loves her family, and her family loves her, and she loves her friends, and they love her back. And she has a great life, and those imperfections don’t hold her back from that.

[excerpt from Bridget Jones’s Diary]

Ms. Percy: The idea that you don’t have to be perfect to be accepted or loved is something that really struck Samantha Powell. She’s a writer who writes about fashion and pop culture, and Bridget Jones entered her life at a time when she really needed someone to remind her that her own imperfections made her who she was.

Ms. Percy: So tell me what memories came up for you when you were thinking about, the first time you saw Bridget Jones’s Diary, and where you were and how old you were and all of the things that were going on when you first saw it.

Samantha Powell: Well, I remember it, actually, really well, because it was the spring of my senior year of high school. The movie came out in April.

Ms. Percy: 2001, right?

Ms. Powell: Yep, 2001, and I was gonna be turning 18 soon, and then I was gonna graduate from high school. And that felt, obviously, very momentous, two very big things happening very close together. And I remember loving it immediately. I had read the book already, so I knew, obviously, the basic outline of the story, and I had also read Pride and Prejudice and watched the Colin Firth [laughs] BBC Pride and Prejudice. This was a story that I knew.

Ms. Percy: Yes, the lake-jumping scene, and — let’s not go down there. We’ll just get too hot and bothered. Yeah. [laughs]

Ms. Powell: [laughs] So I wasn’t expecting to be surprised; it wasn’t a movie I went to with that in mind. But I just remember really enjoying myself, really liking Bridget’s London apartment and thinking it was very cool and adult, and all of her friends, and thinking, “This is the kind of life that I’d like to have as an adult.”

Ms. Percy: Because 32, which is the age she is at the time, in the movie, seems so far away at that age.

Ms. Powell: Yeah, it seemed like a lifetime away, [laughs] that idea. And I think, partly because of seeing it at that age, Bridget seemed pretty put-together, to me, at that time.

Ms. Percy: Whoa, that’s saying a lot, considering what a mess she is.

Ms. Powell: [laughs] A little messy, but…

Ms. Percy: But still, she has a job. She’s able to pay her rent.

Ms. Powell: She has a job. She has an apartment. She dates people.

Ms. Percy: She has food. I was like, “She’s able to afford drinks and food. This seems like a good life.”

Ms. Powell: Right; exactly. And so, I think, then watching it years later, as I got closer and closer to the age that Bridget was in it, I was like, oh, wait a minute. [laughs] Right.

Ms. Percy: Yeah, in your piece about Bridget Jones’s Diary, you write about the role it’s played in your life. And you wrote something that really rang true for me, that really stayed with me, so I just want to read it back to you, if you don’t mind.

Ms. Powell: Of course.

Ms. Percy: You wrote, “When I daydreamed about my impending adulthood, which I did constantly in those last months of high school, it always featured the same things: the perfect husband, perfect house, and perfect children. But I had also decided that before I could attain any of that, I needed to become the perfect me. I kept in my head a running list of all of my shortcomings, both small and large, to be handled, wrangled, and pushed deep down. My constant striving for perfection was unhealthy, but my bigger problem was my belief that happiness was intrinsically tied to it; that I would suddenly have the happiness I lacked if only I could finally attain perfection.”

I never looked at Bridget Jones’s Diary with that lens in mind, yet, that’s totally, exactly what this movie is about, that’s what Bridget is doing, right? She’s trying to achieve perfection in order to attain happiness. And then, by the end, it’s like she realizes that only if she accepts herself will she actually get happiness. And I just wonder — first of all, what had shaped this idea of happiness that you had at the time, in your own personal life, and then how did watching this movie change the way you looked at perfection and happiness?

Ms. Powell: So I went to a girls’ school in Boston. I had been there since fifth grade, so at that point, almost eight years. And I think — and it was a very competitive environment. I learned a lot; it was wonderful, educationally. But I think that I felt this need to have everything about it be perfect: perfect grades; and then, after you got perfect grades, you graduated, and you went to a top-tier school. And there was — it just felt like there was a weight of being a woman, a young woman who went to this school and got this education, and that part of being happy was being this certain type of person.

And I think that was part of it; for me, there was an extra level there, because it was a predominantly white institution, and I was a young black girl. So for me, there was an extra level of needing to be perfect, because I already felt somewhat out of place.

Ms. Percy: And what did happiness look like for you? Could you even say what that was, at the time?

Ms. Powell: I think it was a very vague concept that included very clichéd steps, so — go to college, at that time. Then go to medical school, immediately. Become a doctor. Meet a guy, get married at around 28 [laughs] and have a couple of kids.

Ms. Percy: Which actually is just like Bridget, right? She doesn’t feel like, until she has the husband, has the certain career, has the certain weight, because that’s the other big thing — until she achieves these things, she won’t ever actually be happy.

[excerpt: Bridget Jones’s Diary]

Ms. Powell: I feel like she gets the new job, and she leaves her old job, and the new job isn’t any better.

Ms. Percy: No, because it’s still her, right? [laughs]

Ms. Powell: [laughs] Right. She thought it would be better, and it wasn’t. I think it was about — what I liked about it was — finding happiness where you are. It’s part of the reason why I didn’t like the sequels.

Ms. Percy: Yeah, no kidding, because that focus was taken away from them.

Ms. Powell: Right, and when Mark gives his big “I like you just the way you are” speech, where basically, he lists flaws, which — the flipside of that speech, in the actual Austen novel, is just — Elizabeth doesn’t take it well. It’s just negative. It’s a negative thing before she yells at him, basically, [laughs] saying that she would never marry him. But in this, they take it, and they make it into a romantic overture that has weight and isn’t negative, where it confuses her, because I think she assumed that for any man to like her, he couldn’t see all of those things about herself that she assumed were bad. So it made her reevaluate how she felt about herself. It’s not the best, that it took a man saying this to her for her to come to that realization. But someone had to say it, and no one else around her was going to say it — obviously, not her mother. [laughs]

Ms. Percy: Yeah, no kidding.

Ms. Powell: And the thing is that it’s not like he says it and then, suddenly, she’s like, “This is the man for me.” It takes a slow realization of that, as well, which I also thought felt realistic to me. She had to think about herself, and she had to think about what that meant about how she felt about him.

[excerpt: Bridget Jones’s Diary]

Ms. Percy: And I think she had to also, really, actually evaluate what she really wanted, because one of the things about the Daniel Cleaver character, played by Hugh Grant, is that he’s such a stereotype of all the things we’re supposed to want. He’s good-looking, and he’s sexy, and he’s her boss, which also has its own illicit attraction. But he’s got money. And yet, she can’t really realize that she wants Mark Darcy until she goes through all of that with him.

[excerpt: Bridget Jones’s Diary]

Ms. Percy: So I’m just curious, because I know that the first time you saw this movie, this wasn’t what you first realized. [laughs] This kind of profound depth did not come across, as a 17-year-old. And I just wondered, when did that change for you? When did you start looking at Bridget Jones’s Diary in this new light, with this kind of very deep sense of the lesson of imperfection and the search for happiness?

Ms. Powell: I think it would probably be in my late 20s, and I think a lot of that had to do with — I’d been laid off from a job during the Great Recession [laughs] and was living in New York and tried to make that work for as long as I could before I had to move back home to Boston. And I think, at that point, I felt like nothing was going right. And I felt like a lot of the reasons things weren’t going right was because there was something wrong with me. And I think just watching it and realizing that you could be an imperfect person and change in little ways, but at the core, still be the same person and find some happiness — I guess I needed to see something like that. And seeing it in something that I felt familiar with and suddenly realizing that, when watching it — it took things being bad for me to realize what the movie was actually telling me, I think.

[excerpt: Bridget Jones’s Diary]

Ms. Percy: Yeah, it’s amazing. I’ve thought a lot about Bridget Jones and why it is that she’s so relatable, but I think it’s because there’s something in the performance that Renée Zellweger brings that just feels so human and, also, just so lovable and accessible. I still feel like she’s me; I’m her. That never — I never doubt that.

Ms. Powell: Right.

Ms. Percy: And it’s amazing especially, to me, considering — I’m a Hispanic woman, and you’re a black woman, and yet, we both related to this blonde, white lady. [laughs] So it says something about the writing.

Ms. Powell: [laughs] Right; exactly. [laughs]

Ms. Percy: So speaking of the writing, Bridget Jones — I think another thing that I love, apart from the character of Bridget Jones, is the dialogue. There’s so many quotable lines. And you already quoted one of my favorites from Mark Darcy, which is the “I like you very much, just as you are,” because you can’t get better than that. But I also love all the silly lines that Bridget says, like — I often will use, in my own life, really inappropriately, the “Bridget Jones, wanton sex goddess with a very bad man between her thighs.” I just wonder, what are your favorite scenes — the scenes that you always go back to, or the lines of dialogue that you play over and over in your head?

Ms. Powell: There’s a scene where she’s prepping for the book party, and she’s in a restaurant with her trio of friends.

Ms. Percy: [laughs] How to introduce people properly?

Ms. Powell: I can’t quote it, because it’s pretty vulgar, but it’s hilarious.

[excerpt: Bridget Jones’s Diary]

Ms. Percy: [laughs] So good.

Ms. Powell: And also, that felt very real. It was just them having this conversation, making all of these off-color jokes…

Ms. Percy: So true.

Ms. Powell: And not actually giving her any good advice. [laughs]

Ms. Percy: At all — she’s totally unprepared now, for this party. I love the blue soup-cooking scene, I gotta tell you…

Ms. Powell: Yes, I love that, as well.

Ms. Percy: But I love that she is so vulnerable with him in that moment, because she wants to impress her friends with the food that she’s making, and then Mark Darcy shows up at her door, and now she’s got to impress him. And she’s kind of mess. And she has this blue soup, because she used blue string to tie together — I can’t even remember what was in the soup, but it’s disgusting.

Ms. Powell: I think it was leeks.

Ms. Percy: Leeks — oh, yeah, no. [laughs] That’s just a great scene. And it’s another way where we see that comedy and vulnerability, tied together. It’s — they’re laughing together, but they’re also sharing this really vulnerable moment.

 

Ms. Powell: I think it’s the first scene where we see Mark smile, which — I understand, one, he’s supposed to be — that’s part of the character, is that we’re not supposed to know that he has this warmth and inner depth, and that comes out later. But I think, also, because they were trying to mask — if you see Colin Firth’s dimples when he smiles, it’s very distracting.

Ms. Percy: Oh, my God, yeah. You can’t pay attention to anything else. [laughs]

Ms. Powell: No. [laughs] So they waited until the end to pull them out.

Ms. Percy: And also — yeah, exactly. And then, also, we wouldn’t be able to even look at Hugh Grant as anything attractive, because you’re like — once the dimples are out — that’s it. [laughs]

Ms. Powell: No contest. [laughs]

Ms. Percy: No contest. [laughs]

[excerpt: Bridget Jones’s Diary]

Ms. Percy: How have you come to accept yourself, as Bridget did, toward the end of the film? Do you feel like you’re getting closer to that?

Ms. Powell: I think I’m closer to it. It’s an ongoing — it’s a learning process.

Ms. Percy: Yes. [laughs] Some days are better than others, let’s be honest.

Ms. Powell: [laughs] But I think I’m much better, in that regard, than I was at any point in my 20s.

Ms. Percy: That’s huge.

Ms. Powell: Yeah, it is. It’s been one of the best parts of my 30s, is being better at that, at forgiving myself and understanding that I don’t have to be perfect before my life can actually happen. It took me a while to learn that, but I have learned it, for the most part.

[music: “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan, from Bridget Jones’s Diary: Music from the Original Motion Picture]

Samantha Powell is a writer and prolific tweeter. She writes about fashion, movies, and books, and her work has appeared at Complex, The Cut, and Racked. She has dreams of one day writing a book about the history of the handshake, and you can find her work at samanthadpowell.com.

Next time, we’re going to be talking about the Pixar classic, Toy Story. If for some reason you haven’t seen it, or you just want to revisit it so that it’s fresh in your mind for our conversation, you’ve got two weeks to check it out. You can find it on all of the usual streaming sites, or at your local library. Remember, libraries are cool and free.

This Movie Changed Me is produced by Maia Tarrell, Chris Heagle, Marie Sambilay, and Tony Liu, and is an On Being Studios production. Subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you find your podcasts, and if you get a chance, leave us a review. Shout-out this week to nursecoopy for their review. We are your people. And you are always welcome in our movie-loving club. I’m Lily Percy, because that is my name.

[music: “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan, from Bridget Jones’s Diary: Music from the Original Motion Picture]

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