IT’S OK TO LOVE LOVE ACTUALLY
There is a film..a very much loved yet also somehow maligned and misunderstood modern classic..that somehow encapsulates all the frustrations of the build up to Christmas, whilst cleverly juxtaposing those against the sheer innocent joy of romance.
Is it DIE HARD? No (but that IS a genuine Christmas treat as are LETHAL WEAPON and DIE HARD 2). IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE? Definitely NOT (a ‘feel bad’ movie posing as ‘feel good’). HOME ALONE? Course not (it was re-made as SKYFALL). SANTA CLAUSE: THE MOVIE? Get real. ELF? Almost (we do love that film, as does JENNIFER LAWRENCE).
It is actually, in fact, LOVE ACTUALLY. Fact is, the film has come in for a LOT of stick of late. Every Tom, Dick and Harriet film blogger appears to have released some detailed dissection of the film’s drawbacks. Some are funny. Others are just plain rude and nasty and one wonders why the writers of such posts don’t just channel that kind of energy into penning their own flawlessly brilliant screenplay?
In retaliation but also out of genuine love for the film: here are five reasons that I do in fact, actually, love LOVE ACTUALLY.
It’s not a eulogy, though. When you love properly, you love warts and all. You’ll see.
Here we go..
1. PEOPLE ARE STILL TALKING ABOUT THIS FILM
The film is twelve years old. It still feels fresh and timelessly classic at once. When people DO dissect or deride the film, it feels as though they are in fact talking about something that’s just been released (such is the volume of venom among some ‘critics’) or about some neglected classic from decades ago now ripe for revisionism (such is the level of love among some of the film’s disciples).
This film is TIMELESS. And partly because people have paid it so much attention, from its release to its current incarnation in the schedules of each and every currently Christmas themed television channel. The more the film is criticised, the stronger its endurance and legacy appear to become. People enjoy taking the film apart BECAUSE it is so RICH in material and appeals to so many differing demographics. It’s ROBERT ALTMAN meets a kind of greatest hits package from writer RICHARD CURTIS’ previous efforts (4 WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, NOTTING HILL, BERNARD AND THE GENIE..etc..)
There are of course, weaknesses. The gratuitous reference to 9/11 in the opening monologue. The fact that LIAM NEESON’S relationship with the kid would in the real world have social services knocking at the door rather than going ‘aw how cute’. The sister with the brother in hospital story is rushed and dare one say it, forced? The swearing is excessive. But a weakness is just an overdone strength, right?
So, Let’s get back to the focus on those strengths!
2. THE PRIME MINISTER EVERYONE WANTS (and that every B List Politician wants to be)
Ever listened to a speech from a British Prime Minister or wannabe contender for that job, within the last decade or this past week, even? Have you noticed a pattern? There is a tendency to almost wait for a music score in the background and standing ovation / hugs / kisses. A formulaic list of what makes Britain great or what the nation has stood tall and strong against in the past and so on. The inspiration MIGHT have come from LOVE ACTUALLY. It’s just a shame that its pattern is now deployed in service of virtues of war and commerce rather than true love and genuinely selfless patriotism.
This is a great scene in the film: a well written speech by RICHARD CURTIS and delivered by HUGH GRANT at the peak of his star power. When I pitched a sequel a few years ago, I argued that the Prime Minister character stole an ensemble show in part one and therefore earned the main focus for part two. Of course, Curtis and co don’t ‘so’ sequels but they were very nice about it and we did discuss the process of casting their other projects in subsequent correspondence.
Grant has since sworn off doing romantic comedies as the leading man / object of affection (‘too old’ he said of himself; though Harrison Ford once said the same about doing more action films and..). He is conspicuously absent from the forthcoming BRIDGET JONES’ BABY, despite the fact that his Cleaver character was one of that series’ best assets. Fact is: nobody delivers a Curtis line quite as well as Grant and in turn, both their box office receipts are boosted by the association. Hope springs eternal for a reunion.
3. WHAT A CAST!
If an actor featured in LOVE ACTUALLY, then the chances are they were and are a big star then or went onto become some sort of household name or at the very least to generate a solid stream of work. KEIRA KNIGHTLEY shows us that delightful smile and yes – the beautiful charm – that would continue to set her up as a leading lady. ‘Banoffee Pie, anyone?’. LIAM NEESON would go onto play the action man du jour in Hollywood, c/o TAKEN in 2008. COLIN FIRTH wins his Oscar a few years later for THE KING’S SPEECH and turned up in this year’s KINGSMAN (great fun save a few reservations).
BILL NIGHY had always been a ‘name’ but it was this film that showed his full potential to fill the screen with a casual yet effective comic timing. Around the time the film was released, the BBC announced that DOCTOR WHO was to be recommissioned and many thought Nighy was a natural fit for the part. He’s also gone onto do very nicely as a staple of all subsequent Richard Curtis productions, and provided good value for money as a corporate suit style villain / supernatural threat in films of assorted quality and success.
ANDREW LINCOLN plays the poor bloke besotted with lovely little Keira here. Previously, he was known best as ‘Egg’ in BBC’s THIS LIFE. He is now a household name, internationally, thanks to his work on THE WALKING DEAD. What’s doubly interesting is that Lincoln’s love rival in LOVE ACTUALLY is played by CHIWETEL EJIOFOR: one of our finest actors. Mr Ejiofor’s next big project? DOCTOR STRANGE! So, while Andrew is off busting zombies..his old co-star from Curtis rom-com land will also be entering the comic book world of the supernatural.
MARTIN FREEMAN features in LOVE ACTUALLY as a body double for actors in a sex scene. Sounds unlikely? I think that might be the gag. In any event, watching the young Martin here you see the start of his rise to Hollywood power as a kind of every-man for hire. He is of course now very famous indeed as DR WATSON in BBC’s SHERLOCK with BENEDICT ‘DR STRANGE’ CUMBERBATCH (him again!) and BILBO BAGGINS from THE HOBBIT. Freeman also pops up in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR next year. So in effect, you are getting a super-hero film prototype cast here!
And where else would you get a random cameo from BILLY BOB THORNTON as a naughty American President? Or a comedy skit involving a slow wrapping of a symbolic necklace, featuring both both ALAN RICKMAN and ROWAN ATKINSON at their funniest? Answer: nowhere except here: LOVE ACTUALLY.
Value for money, I’d say.
4. IT’S LOVELY TO LOOK AT
Film is a visual medium. And it’s easy to forget that LOVE ACTUALLY is in fact shot, lit, edited, scored and put together rather beautifully. The scenes in the Airports and the cutting between amateur footage from cameras etc and the glossier, Hollywood looks at the location work very well indeed. Is it deployed in the service of schmaltz? You bet. But then so was much of Capra’s work in the heyday of old Hollywood. One could argue that what we see in this film is simply a modern, British, slightly more irreverent approach to the same aims, with updated cinematic methods.
EMMA FREUD has an excellent eye for colour and atmospherics and pace in editing in film, so her contribution should not be ignored or underestimated here. The score from CRAIG ARMSTRONG is one you’ll just ‘know’, since it has been used in multiple media subsequently. He creates moods instantly through music: reflective, haunting, promising, rousing, triumphant..all seamlessly transitioned from one scene to the next.
The City of London is also done justice here. This was one of the first films to turn the city’s modern architecture into a kind of character in itself. A decade later and that method is now essential for visual storytelling with an English based motif. And matters are helped by the seasonal framing: this is the kind of ‘English Christmas’ that still does exist in some sense, though just not quite like this. It probably did not harm the English tourist trade and especially for the seasonal market.
No doubt America feels we returned the favor. Go on…surely at least one young man went to the other side of the pond and was greeted with an army of beautiful women loving the accent? Trust me..it can happen. Yep. Moving swiftly on..
5. FOR SENTIMENTAL REASONS
I am of course an objective critic. But sometimes, you just love a film. And you cannot help it. Perhaps you associate it with a time of contentment? To play the film is to somehow recapture the moment you saw it first?
I have THE fondest memories of LOVE ACTUALLY. It was in Cinemas when I started Law School (a place that could itself have been taken straight from a Curtis rom-com: the COLLEGE OF LAW: it is lovely, actually). I met one of the film’s stars, MARTINE MCCUTCHEON in the week of the film’s release, just as the BULLRING SHOPPING CENTRE in Birmingham (UK) was being unveiled.
‘Isn’t he suave and debonair?’ said Martine to the crowd, whilst giving me a warm hug. A nice memory. And one I frankly did not let go of in a hurry.
I felt compelled to remind dear Martine of that on Twitter, years later. ‘Loved your book, THE MISTRESS‘. Martine re-tweeted my comment with ‘Look what this lovely girl said about my book!’. I tweeted back ‘No! It’s me, James! You remember, right? ‘Suave and Debonair?‘.
‘Sorry and thanks! Made my day, anyway.‘ Martine tweeted back. Wonderful girl.
That moment with Martine was the Twitter-verse at its best: free from trolls and the sort of nastiness that can rather undermine the whole social media experience. Just like life: Sometimes it CAN just be about people. Being rather civil and yes, a tad sentimental. And sometimes that is cloying and awkward and even cringe worthy.
But it’s also frequently a funny and heart warming, even life affirming sensation. LOVE ACTUALLY captures that sense of balance. Not just in its own universe when you watch it, but in the continued meta-textual reaction to and analysis of its legacy that still continues today.
And quite right too: as it was made by some impossibly nice people.
LOVE ACTUALLY is all around us. A fine film for Christmas and other times of year when you might be falling in or out of love.
And if rom-coms are not your thing and you need to stay amused while your significant other(s) watch their fave genres: why not try some mobile online app games..perfect for Christmas and the whole family especially with a Disney theme! POKI CHRISTMAS AND DISNEY GAMES