So I didn’t get round to watching Love Actually this Christmas (shock! horror!) and therefore didn’t get round to writing this post. I think, though, that Valentine’s Day this week gives me another excuse to discuss the film.
(Spoiler alert: don’t read this if you haven’t seen the film (WHAAAAAT?!) as it will possibly ruin it for you forever, and it will definitely not make a lot of sense.)
In December, it became popular among my cynical Facebook friends to gleefully share one critic’s view of Love Actually as the ultimate unromantic film.
Disregarding the fact that most critics tend not to agree with the population at large when it comes to films that we like to watch, let’s take a look at the author’s complaints: First, it’s not a “holiday film” because it’s not about peace on earth. (Umm, okay.) Second, it’s actually anti-romance.
Oddly, I’ve found that I actually agree with most of the author’s comments about the story lines in the film. Somehow, though, he ends up deriding it while I’m an unashamed fan.
In terms of whether or not it’s a “holiday film”: my friend has banned me from watching Love Actually at any time of the year except Christmas, and I’ve finally come round to her thinking. There are Christmas trees and work Christmas parties, Christmas shopping and Nativity plays, All I Want for Christmas and Christmas is All Around… I’m not about to watch it in February when we’re heading towards spring. Okay?
Second, I don’t think I enjoy Love Actually because it’s romantic. I enjoy the music, the comedy, the wintry scenes of London – scenes that always make me want to move there (wahoo! I’m here now) – as much as, or more than, the love stories. Bill Nighy is hilarious. As is Rowan Atkinson. And, in fact, the film might be worth watching simply for that scene where Hugh Grant dances through the halls of Number 10.
The set-up of lots of little stories (since copied, arguably less effectively, by films like He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentine’s Day, and New Year’s Eve) by definition makes it impossible to really delve into the depths of each scenario’s relationships. Condemn the format if you want, but it is what it is.
Now given that it’s Valentine’s Day this week, let’s talk romance.
“The fundamental problem with Love Actually is that it presents romance as either absurdly easy – something that strikes you like a thunderclap and requires only a single grand gesture in order to be fulfilled – or all but impossible.”
Who says love stories depicted on the big screen have to be true to life? Would Romeo really have killed himself over Juliet, or would he rather have gone on to the next hotty on the block? I’ve read that Jack and Rose would never have been allowed up on the bow of the Titanic for that pivotal “I’m flying” moment. And sorry, Princess Buttercup, but contrary to what Westley claims, I’m pretty sure that death can stop true love. Not to mention those R.O.U.S.-es.
The story I find most romantic and at the same time most realistic is the love that blossoms between two body doubles on a movie set. Hurrah for Martin Freeman. Awkward and a little chubby, very real and very sweet.
My other favourite love story is that told between Colin Firth’s middle class writer and the Portuguese housekeeper. Do I care if the details of cultural clashes and language difficulties are left out of the picture? And is it surprising that he finds her even more attractive when he sees her in her underwear?
Oh, and the scene where Andrew Lincoln holds up the card that says, “To me, you are perfect” makes my heart melt every time. Even though it’s pretty awful that this guy is going behind his best friend’s back to declare undying love to the guy’s wife. Hey ho.
When it comes to the explicitly non-romantic stories, the scenes with Liam Neeson and his stepson trying to cope with their loss are both tender and comical. The funeral scene in which we learn of the boy’s mother having died is really very moving, as is the incredible scene with Emma Thompson in the bedroom after she learns her husband has been unfaithful. These are two very powerful, very real, scenarios that are captured in the film.
For the others: yes, Laura Linney is an idiot for giving up on the Brazilian Adonis (surely she could manage to look after her brother while having a bit of fun on the side?). And yes, the idea of the British Prime Minister falling in love with the tea lady ostensibly based solely on hearing her swear, not to mention his changing foreign policy at a whim, is rather disturbing and liable to end badly. Of course it’s ridiculous that Liam Neeson meets a single mother that looks like Claudia Schiffer at the end of the film. Of course there are no gorgeous women in Wisconsin who will sleep naked in the same bed with a hapless Brit. Of course a ten-year-old boy wouldn’t be allowed through security and then chased by security guards as he runs to say goodbye to his crush.
It’s a movie, people!
It’s a bit of fun. At times silly, at times real, and at times incredibly moving.
And I love it.