' Cinema Romantico: Love Actually

Friday, November 23, 2007

Love Actually

(This is a re-posting of an entry I wrote a couple years ago but since my rather festive Thanksgiving concluded last night with a showing of "Love Actually" - and a few too many adult beverages - I thought it was a grand idea to repost it. I had not seen it in over a year and forgot what a wonderous movie it is.)

This Christmas if you decide to settle back with a nice cup of eggnog and a movie to provide you the spirit of the season, I would recommend with extreme diligence you pop “Love Actually” into your DVD player. This will put you in the holiday mood like nothing else, I guarantee.

It is the first of its kind – an epic romantic comedy. There are many great actors and many, many stories – some loosely connected, some not. As with any movie involving multiple storylines, some are going to hit, some are going to miss, and some are just going to kind of lay there like me after indulging in a bit too much festive holiday rum. That being said, the ones that miss or choose to lay there do not detract too much. In some cases they even have redeeming qualities of their own. The strongest story to my eyes concerns Liam Neeson and his step-son, Sam, who has just found his one, true love. Together they plot how Sam can win her heart, settling on Sam taking up a musical instrument because “for God’s sake, even Ringo Starr got a Bond girl”. And I won’t even tell you how this subplot manages to work in a clip of “Titanic”.

Also great is the tale of aging rocker Billy Mack attempting to land the #1 Christmas single on the music charts (“you know as well as I do the record’s crap”). Every scene involving him is laugh-out-loud funny and I can also say upon further reflection that Bill Nighy should have landed an Oscar nomination for his work here. Seriously. Nighy’s final scene is simultaneously hilarious and poignant as he reveals his true feelings even though he can’t help but launch rock-star poses as he does so. I also valued the courtship of the English author (Colin Firth) and the Spanish maid, neither of which speak the other’s language. And then there is heroic, bumbling Colin who is convinced if he goes to America and walks into any bar he can get a woman solely on account of his British accent.

I will let you discover whether this theory proves to be correct.

Wait, I almost forgot about the Prime Minister (Hugh Grant at his most charmingly inept) falling in love with his assistant! You’ll want to cheer when he stands up to the U.S. President in the name of love (and country) and then gets on his groove thang at 10 Downing Street. Who among us hasn’t busted a move or two in a moment of triumph?

Unfortunately, with so many goings-on there are subplots bound to fail, and a few do. The tale of the stand-in’s, while generating some laughs, could have been cut. Laura Linney’s office-romance falls flat on its face. Alan Rickman’s own office romance just doesn’t generate enough bite to be worthy of mention, but it does allow Emma Thompson to give one of the best performances in the movie. Her near-breakdown with a Joni Mitchell song hovering over it is a thing of acting beauty. And Kiera Knightley has absolutely nothing to do in a fairly useless side-story but be preposterously radiant – which she does with aplomb. But this story does contain one of the movie’s sweetest moments involving a boom-box and cue cards.

Will Sam declare his feelings to his one, true love before her plane takes flight? Will the English author declare his true feelings to the Spanish maid? Will the Prime Minister declare his true feelings to his assistant? Why are you even asking those questions?

Allow me to go off about telegraphing plot resolutions, if you please. I saw the Tom Hanks film “Road to Perdition” in the theater and was fortunate enough to be seated next to a woman who insisted on yakking through the whole thing. (I am now providing a spoiler alert – skip ahead to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know the ending of the aforementioned film.) At the conclusion, Tom Hanks and his son are in a beach house and a shot is held (as I recall) on a window looking out at the ocean. Now, to backtrack a bit, a hit-man played by Jude Law had been injured by Tom Hanks – though clearly not killed – earlier and hadn’t been seen for the last quarter of the film. But you KNOW he’s in the house and you KNOW he’s going to kill Tom Hanks. That’s what makes the scene so tense. But the yakking lady next to me, during the whole scene, tells her friend in a very self-congratulatory manner, “Jude Law’s in the house. Watch, he’ll shoot Tom Hanks.” Then it happens. And then the lady says, “I told you. I told you that would happen.” I wanted to turn to her so badly and scream, “Thank you, Sherlock Holmes!” OF COURSE, he’s in the house, you moronic excuse of a movie-goer! THAT’S THE POINT!

So yes, the conclusions to many of “Love Actually’s” storylines are foregone conclusions but that’s the point. The resolutions to all the stories are not really what matter. The beauty lies within how the resolutions are reached and how damned happy we are when they finally are reached.

The theme of the movie boils down to this – when the character played by Mr. Bean shows up for the second time at the end of the movie to provide Sam a key assist in his quest, ask yourself if you would do in the same situation what he does. If you would, this movie’s for you. If not, maybe this movie isn’t for you. But by then you’ve almost sat through the whole thing, anyway, and maybe – just maybe – you’ve become a bit more of a romantic yourself. And that’s not so bad, is it?

1 comment:

Wretched Genius said...

I am with you 95% on this one. I really liked the plot with the stand-ins, and I thought it was a very unique way of displaying that awkward first step of the flirting process. I agree with the rest, however. The Linney story was weak. The Rickman plot was good, but there was no chemistry with his secretary, and it wasn't convincing that he'd be more interested in her than with Emma Thompson. And Kiera Knightly's section felt more like an afterthought, as though it was written as a quick way to shoehorn a rising star into the movie.

But the rest of the film more than makes up for the weak spots. And as you stated, even the lesser stories still have their moments.