Author Steven Luna’s confession: he enjoyed the film “Love Actually.” Here’s why.
More and more, I hear about guys who have no appreciation for the film Love Actually. Watching it has almost become a badge of un-dude-hooding. And granted, at first glance it does have a distinct chick-flick aura about it. But if you scratch beneath the surface and take it for what it really is – a large-cast dramedy about all the messy ways love can exist – it’s actually a fun ride worth taking.
And don’t worry; your balls will be intact on the other side.
For those not yet indoctrinated, the film is an ensemble piece that follows various interwoven characters as they find love in all different forms. It’s takes place in London, although that ends up having very little to do with much of anything, other than explaining why ninety percent of the actors have British accents. As films like this are prone to be, it’s dialogue-heavy. It’s also damn smart and funny throughout. As a writer, I’m something of a snob when it comes to dialogue. If it doesn’t sound like something real people would say, its garbage as far as I can tell. The general rule is: the closer to clever a writer attempts to come, the further away from convincing the characterization is. And in this movie, everything is a conversation. But it all works amazingly well…not that it hits the mark every time. But overall, it’s sweet and touching and hilarious and heartbreaking.
Reading this back, I realize I’ve just listed most of the things that guy films don’t ever include.
Let’s just skip ahead to the part where we critique the film.
I’ll admit, the first time my wife recommended we watch the DVD, I didn’t really think it would be my jam. She’d already seen it with her friends and thought it was pretty spectacular. Since it was her turn to choose, I was in no position to argue – and since, aside from Santa Claus is Coming to Town, it was the only holiday-themed movie we owned at the time. So I caved. As it turns out, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here’s what it has on its side for anyone who watches, dude or otherwise.
The cast is winsome: The whole crew does a phenomenal job charming their way through their respective entanglements. Bill Nighy (otherwise known as Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean 2) is in top form playing a burnt-out rock star on the comeback trail. He gets all the best lines (“Kids: don’t buy drugs…become a pop star and they’ll give them to you for free.”) I’ve never been a fan of Hugh Grant’s bumbling-stumbling-mumbling thing, but he’s actually very relatable here as a newly-elected Prime Minister who falls in love with his working class staff assistant. Keira Knightley is in there, too, as the unwitting object of her husband’s best friend’s affection; she damn near glows when she’s on screen. Emma Thompson carries her weight doing all those wonderful Emma Thompson-y things she does so well while helping Liam Neeson cope with the death of his wife and the complications of raising his step-son as a single dad. And Kris Marshall steals every scene he’s in as a randy dork planning a trip to Wisconsin to woo the Midwestern ladies with his English accent. They’re all fantastic.
The situations are cleverly-executed: While most of the circumstances aren’t particularly realistic, they’re all pretty fun to watch, especially Martin “Bilbo Baggins” Freeman and Joanna “The Girl Who Looks Like Mia Farrow” Page as lighting stand-ins for porn stars who make small talk as they simulate their positions fully-clothed and take nipple direction from the stage hands (my mother-in-law walked out when they first appeared on-screen…made it a must-see for me). Colin Firth and Lucia Moniz communicating in two different languages plumb some painfully awkward territory that intermingles moments of fully-expected sweetness. A scene with Alan Rickman’s conflicted businessman buying a gift for his office flirt is made all the more silly by the appearance of Mr. Bean himself, Rowan Atkinson, hilariously over-wrapping the damn thing. And before sheriff’ed up and blew the bejeezus out of zombies, Andrew Lincoln stepped up as a photographer-everyman who pines for his pal’s new bride, explaining his unrequited love through the use of Bob Dylan-esque cue cards in a well thought-out sequence that captures the essence of heartbreak. These and many more are handled with the care afforded any well-structured cinematic comedy-drama. Good stuff.
It’s a Christmas movie with very little Christmas in it: We’ve come to expect that any new holiday-themed film will be riddled with the typical tropes: something about Santa, something about giving, something about joy. Blah, blah, blah. What this film does brilliantly is create a holiday atmosphere without ever punching you in the stocking with it. Bill Nighy’s rendition of “Love is All Around” is rewritten as “Christmas is All Around”, and you almost don’t realize it (and neither does he, as he struggles to replace the word during several takes in the studio). Shopping scenes focus on the characters rather than the setting or the decorations. That’s pretty novel. And in one scene that dares you to stay dry-eyed amid the festivities, Emma Thompson discovers the necklace she thought was waiting for her under the tree is really a CD instead – and realizes her husband has actually given said necklace to his paramour-to-be. The gift itself has almost nothing to do with the holiday; it’s a vehicle, a symbol for something so personal and so devastating that glib goodwill and insincere tidings of comfort and joy couldn’t possibly exist in its presence. It’s thoroughly effective. And in spite of this and the rest of its general un-holiday holiday-ish-ness, Love Actually has become an annual December-time tradition for us, part of the Christmas Movie Holy Trinity alongside Elf and A Christmas Story.
But nobody needs to be told why they should watch those two.