Monday, December 23, 2013

Let's Talk About Love Actually and Why Imperfect Is Okay

I know I've said this many times, but it really is hard figuring out how to talk about something you like in an uncomplicated way. By which I mean that I have trouble thinking of a way to analyze Love Actually or even say anything interesting about it at all, because I just enjoy it so darn much. It's been my go-to holiday feel-good movie ever since it came out - that one romantic movie that I really don't mind watching and that I can probably (shamefully) quote all the way through.

I mean, this is by no means the most shameful movie in my collection. I own a DVD of Drive Me Crazy and Wolves of Kromer, which still stands as the best bad movie I've ever seen. I don't even really think that Love Actually is a bad movie. It's not. I'd even go so far as to say that it's good. But it's nowhere near good enough for me to have such a strong love for it, if these sorts of things were at all logical.

Here are the facts. We'll talk about the feelings in a minute. The movie itself is one of those insipid romantic ensemble films, though it does win points for being one of the better executed examples. It follows nine different couples during the month before Christmas, culminating in the stunning finale at a school pageant on Christmas Eve, and then popping back in for an epilogue a month after that.

The couples run a wide gamut of (mostly) white, straight, upper-middle class love. You have Daniel (Liam Neeson), who has just lost his wife and is baffled by the revelation that his stepson has subjugated all of his feelings of grief into a frenetic crush on a fellow student. There's Jamie (Colin Firth), whose girlfriend cheats on him and drives him to finish his novel in France, where he falls in love with his Portuguese housekeeper, Aurelia (Lucia Moniz). Let's see... Mark (Andrew Lincoln) is in love with Juliet (Keira Knightley, whose character has the same name as the girl she played in Bend It Like Beckham, so headcanon). Unfortunately, Juliet has just married Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who is Mark's best friend. Sadness abounds.

Harry (Alan Rickman) engages in a dangerous flirtation with his new secretary, Mia (Heike Makatsch), while his wife, Karen (Emma Thompson) frets over her kids and her big brother, David (Hugh Grant). Oh right, except David is actually the Prime Minister and has just entered office, only to fall smack in love with his assistant, Natalie (Martine McCutcheon). 

Meanwhile, Harry's employee, Sarah (Laura Linney) is desperately in love with her coworker, Karl (Rodrigo Santoro), and it would work out great, if she weren't always on call to care for her mentally ill brother.

Oh, and Billy Nighy and Gregor Fisher play an aging rock star and his manager who attempt to slither up the charts with a disgusting Christmas song, while Martin Freeman and Joanna Page play a surprisingly cute pair of actor stand-ins who meet while standing in on a remarkably filthy movie.

Did I mention that all of these people kind of know each other? It's like a giant tangled ball of string and familial obligations. Like any holiday, actually.

Anyway, because there are so very many characters and plotlines and interconnections and baffling moments, the story is actually really hard to follow if you take it as a whole. Or rather, it becomes very very simplistic on the whole. The plot, when you get down to it? Love actually is all around us.

That's it. There's a lot of love. Isn't that nice.

If you haven't gathered by now, I really can't stand things that are just nice. I like things that are good, things that are true, and things that are bursting with life. But nice? Vaguely holding the door for someone before you keep walking the way you were walking anyway is nice. 

Remembering not to play your music loudly at one in the morning because your roommate might be sleeping is nice. Not parking someone in is nice. Nice is the absolute bare minimum of effort you could have expended here, and it is certainly not an adjective I would ever want applied to me. Not that I particularly think it would be, to be honest.

Anyway, and do remember here that I really and truly love this movie and we'll get to that bit in a moment, the movie's all right, but there's really not a lot there, is there? Because there are so many characters and plotlines going on, no one gets enough screentime for anything substantial to happen. You just kind of check in on the various plots. Also, because everyone gets so little screentime, the writers rely on cheap tricks, like "Oh no! The manuscript fell in the water! We'll both have to strip down and jump in the lake to retrieve it. Hope this doesn't raise a level of sexual tension and make both of us realize our feelings for each other." Sigh.

Oh, and the movie's pretty darn sexist and rather strongly racist. There are precisely three significant characters of color in the entire film. Four if you count the eleven year old's love interest, which you shouldn't, because she's a child and also on screen for about five minutes, during which time she has like three lines.

Anyway, those three characters of color are, in order of plot relevance, Peter, the guy whose best friend is in love with his wife and who remains blissfully oblivious of this for the whole film. Peter has no plotline, other than being happily married to Juliet. I mean, good for him? But it's still not enough. Also, there's Karl, who does get to be a little active in his love story, but his is one of the least important stories, and also we never get his side of view on it. Is he sad when Sarah keeps answering her phone? Does he really love her, or is he just kind of curious and willing to try it out? What's up with Karl?

The third major character of color is Tony (Abdul Salis), who has no romantic plotline and acts only as a foil to his wacky friend, Colin (Kris Marshall), and Colin's plan to go over to America and sleep with hot women. Also he shows up on set and directs the stand-in couple. 

That's it.

Things aren't much better for the women. I mean, yeah, there are lots of women in this movie, because it's a romance and a remarkably straight one at that, but the women don't really ever get to do anything. Almost none of the female characters are the center of their plots. Nope. It's the male characters who drive the story, and the female characters who are the objects of affection. Key word there? Objects.

No, seriously. With the exception of Sarah, whose storyline still revolves around a man who controls her life, it's just her brother, none of the women are the leading players in their love stories. It's freaking depressing. They're just there to stand around and look pretty while the guys work through enough of their crap to profess undying love or whatever. It's annoying.

Except here's the thing. I really love this movie.

And as I just stated above, I don't have a very good reason to. It's totally not my jam. It's sexist and racist and annoying. It's nice. I hate nice.

But someone needs to direct those complaints to the warm squishy part of my soul that I haven't yet managed to stomp out, because this movie makes me giggle and squirm and laugh with delight. It makes me sad, and excited, and deeply, deeply invested in the characters and their love stories. Crap, I even care that Billy Nighy's execrable single hits number one, even though you know it will, and even though this movie came out in 2003 and I've watched it at least once a year since then, so I think I freaking know what's going to happen!

Doesn't matter. I still get super invested every time.

Look, no movie is perfect. Even the ones that I hold up as golden examples for the rest of us to bow before (except that's idolatry and weird, we'll just vaguely nod towards Pacific Rim, Bend It Like Beckham, Terminator 2, etc) aren't perfect. The key is finding a movie that's imperfect in exactly the right way for you.

Kind of like, well, love. 

Aww crap. That got sappy on me. I feel dirty now. I'm going to go shower in cynicism and watch a cold Russian art film until I feel bitter again.

Gross.

2 comments:

  1. Don't stomp out the warm squishy part of your soul! DON'T DO IT, DEB! Why? Because love actually is all around us. [If I were saying this to you, I'd say it in the right accent and intonation, so you'd better read it that way!]

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    1. Don't worry, I heard it in your British accent. :P

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