Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Best Movies of My Life: Love Actually (2003)

2003 was a banner year for movies, as far as I'm concerned. This film came out along with the third of the Harry Potter sequels, arguably its best, along with Seabiscuit, which I've reviewed, and School of Rock.

Love Actually is actually a British film version of Love, American Style, which aired--in America, of course--from 1969 to 1974, and whose theme song I remember to this day. Episodes were split into vignettes, each featuring a person or a couple either falling in love or rekindling their love. I recall liking the series, even though as a preteen I couldn't quite understand some of the adult themes. I was pleased when, upon first viewing Love Actually, I saw that the producer, Richard Curtis, had borrowed that model.

This is a Christmas film, one I enjoy watching each season as part of my yearly yuletide ritual, which is almost totally confined to watching movies I think belong to the time period. I have no family beyond Kye; and she puts up with this film-watching oddity with lovely patience. There are many other films and TV shows, of course, that I try to watch during this season: Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Serendipity, Scrooged, Elf, and the Doctor Who specials, to name just a few.

Love Actually features some real heavy hitters in its line-up: Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Kiera Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Martin Freeman, Andrew Lincoln, Kris Marshall, Laura Linney, Colin Firth, and Bill Nighy. And that's not even the full list. Rickman plays a business owner tempted by his secretary. He's married to Emma Thompson's character, who is the sister of the prime minister, played by Hugh Grant. Grant is new to his office and is immediately smitten by his secretary.

Liam Neeson plays a recently widowed architect who is left with his late wife's son, and is now struggling to get to know him. Kiera Knightley's character is recently wed to Peter, played by Ejiofor, and is completely oblivious to Peter's best friend, Mark (Lincoln), who has been completely gah for her, presumably since the first time he met her. Firth is a writer who discovers that his own brother is sleeping with his wife; heartbroken, he heads to France to his cottage to work on his latest novel, only to fall in love with the maid, played by Sienna Guillory. Bill Nighy plays a burned-out rock star, Billy Mack, who discovers, in reluctant stages, just how much he loves, in a platonic fashion, his manager, played by Gregor Fisher.

Again, not even a full run-down. It's no wonder it is considered a modern classic, even though critics love nothing more than to deride it. My favorite vignette, arguably, features Kris Marshall's character, a caterer by the name of Colin Frissell, who, tired of getting constantly turned down by "stuck up" English girls, decides to go to America to find a girlfriend, convinced, somehow, that American girls aren't as stuck up and are "game for a laugh" (a myth of epic proportions). He gets his ticket--to Wisconsin, no less--and the rest is every teenage boy's wildest dream come true.

I'm sure you've got your own iconic moment from the film; the most popular is this one, of course:

It should be noted that Kiera Knightley was just 18 years old when that scene was filmed, making me wonder about statutory rape laws in Great Britain. I mean, how long was she dating Peter? Presumably she plays an older character, of course, but every time I watch this film I can't help but think those thoughts.

If I were to add more criticism, it would come down to this: these characters are all overwhelmingly successful individuals, with nary a single financial care in the world. For most of them, their biggest problem is Getting Their Freak On, not paying rent or keeping a shitty low-wage job or living in a shit-hole, pleasing the boss, or feeding themselves, paying the past-due bills, and so on. For the rest, their love problems may differ in kind and quality, but their economic status is completely congruent to the others. The poorest of the lot, ostensibly, is Colin Frissell, but even he has enough dough to come to America just so he can get laid. This is a film about the one percent, make no mistake about it. Their lives and their problems are as far removed from most of the rest of ours as Earth is removed from Pluto. Billions of miles.

The same is true of Bridget Jones' Diary, which was also produced by Curtis, and Serendipity, which was not. Both belong on my list of best movies, but that doesn't mean I don't see big flaws in them, especially philosophically. I'm adult enough, I think, to "grin and bear 'em" while still considering them some of my favorites films.

I'd like to see Curtis take up that challenge (if he hasn't already; I don't know): produce another Love Actually-type film for Christmas, but one that features people not so blessed economically or financially, who still yearn for and perhaps even win love, who manage somehow to find a happy ending despite their day-to-day challenges. Let's also get away, at least minimally, at least with a few of the vignettes, from the hetero-normative couplings, and also the amatonormative ones. Let's redefine family not as blood, but those you motherfuckin' say are your family. And let's also take a deeper look a la Billy Mack and his manager's relationship at what friendship truly is, truly rare as the real deal is, and perhaps show a vignette about how two or three or four, even, discover and share that most precious gem among themselves.

Are you up to the challenge, Mr. Curtis?