Movies: Love Actually

Starring: Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman
Directed By: Richard Curtis
Written By: Richard Curtis
Universal, 2003
R; 135 min
3 stars (out of 5)


I saw this movie back when it first came out, not in the cinema but as a rental. I didn't really remember anything about it except that I'd come away vaguely unsatisfied by the whole experience, and so over time had the sense that I didn't much like this movie. But every year about this time a good many of my friends will begin to say, "Oh, and I've got to watch Love Actually! It's a modern Christmas classic!" So I began to wonder whether I'd missed something and it was better than I remembered and decided to watch it again.

Conclusion: Love Actually is better perhaps than average, but only just. Certainly, I see why people watch it at Christmas, and on the whole the storylines are hopeful, some bittersweet, but all generally palatable. But I also question the need for some of the plotlines, many of which are little more than sketches—did there used to be more of them but these were cut down for time? Why not remove them entirely then, make a whole other film? And was Rowan Atkinson supposed to be some kind of Christmas angel? I hope so, because I like that idea; I only wish there'd been more of that.

I don't know whether Love Actually was the first of these kinds of movies that take a number of plots and tie them up into a bouquet of sorts at the end (think: Valentine's Day and the like), but it must have at least been very early in that line. Although here the flowers are only tenuously held by loose ribbon: the prime minister's sister lives in the same neighborhood as his love interest, who lives next door to the woman Alan Rickman's character is . . . Well, and so on. And some of the links aren't even that clear, so that at the end it's just a bunch of people meeting at an airport, and I was sitting there asking, They know each other? Were we supposed to know that? So that it appears mostly to be a matter of convenience, or maybe just a wrap party with the cameras still running.

I take exception, too, to the portrayal of American women in this film. Was that Harriet girl supposed to be from Texas? Though I have to say, I'm not all that surprised. I travel to London pretty regularly, and I've been asked more than once by people there, after learning I'm originally from Texas, (a) where my hat is, (b) where my boots are, (c) why I don't have an accent, and/or (d) what kind(s) of horse(s) do I own. The first time a British person asked me these things, I laughed because I thought he was joking. He wasn't. And more often than not, when I'm asked these questions while traveling, they are posed in all seriousness.

Love Actually does please me, however, in confirming my deeply held belief that Liam Neeson would be the best dad ever. He's about the same age as my dad, so if he's ever looking to adopt . . . Really, though, it takes a lot to make me tear up, but that moment in which Neeson's character watches his son get a kiss from his (the son's) crush—yeah, okay, my eyes tingled a little just then.

For the most part, I liked Love Actually, though I felt it rough in a lot of places. And maybe that's a difference in cinematic styles; in my experience American films tend to be very slick and shiny, British films less so. Love Actually has a strange and interesting blend of the realistic (a family scarred by a husband's toying with his assistant while the wife tends to hearth and home, a man trying to get over the death of his wife, young love) and the fantastic (like the ugly British guy going to America and coming back with pretty girls, or the guy learning Portuguese so he can propose to a woman he's never even been able to speak to, or Hugh Grant as Prime Minister—and Emma Thompson's older brother). Therefore it comes off as half slick and shiny and half gritty, and then with all the stories that only enter in marginally (the Keira Knightly bit, and the porn star stand-ins, and Bill Nighy), there's something slightly unfinished about the whole thing. Even the stories that we're supposed to take as neatly wrapped up (like Christmas gifts?) don't really feel finished. But maybe that's the point. Life and love don't begin and end in handy plotlines; they are rough and unfinished, at least until you bow out and exit the stage.

No comments: