Stuff I Watch in December: Love, Actually (2003)

Happy Holidays and welcome! We are counting down the days until December 25th and, in that time, I will be reviewing each and every Christmas/holiday film I watch during the month. They’re mostly a selection of films in my own library or films and shows that have been recommended to me.

Please enjoy and leave a comment!

And if you missed any of our past reflections, take a look:

Holiday Inn (1942)
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
White Christmas (1954)
Santa Claus (1959)
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972)
Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
I Believe in Santa Claus (1984)
Lethal Weapon (1986)
Die Hard (1988)
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
Scrooged (1988)
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Home Alone (1990)
Die Hard 2 (1990)
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown (1992)
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Jingle All the Way (1996)
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Home Alone 3 (1997)
Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999)
Olive the Other Reindeer (1999)
Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales (2002)
I Want a Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown (2003)
Elf (2003)

Our next film is…

WATCHING: Love, Actually (2003)

love actually

DIRECTOR: RIchard Curtis. This was his directorial debut. His other films weren’t nearly as memorable. He would go on to write Yesterday for Danny Boyle and War Horse for Steven Speilberg and would get more praise for his work on the latter than he did the former.

WHAT IS IT?: A complex Christmas film with a star-studded cast and a lot going on.

THE PLOT: Here’s the list of stories:

1) Aging rocker Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) has recorded a really terrible Christmas variation of The Troggs’ “Love Is All Around” called “Christmas Is All Around”. He knows it’s bad. His manager, Joe (Gregor Fisher) knows it’s bad. Everyone in the UK, and possibly, THE WORLD, knows it’s bad. Except that Billy’s the only one willing to tell everyone that it’s awful — even if it means his manager will suffer with each interview he gives. Despite Joe’s frustrations, the two have an undeniable bond.

2) Juliet (Keira Knightly) and Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are newlyweds and Mark (Andrew Lincoln), Peter’s best man, is their videographer. Mark has a massive crush on Juliet — but can’t begin to tell Juliet this — even if the wedding video footage he shot of them both is a dead giveaway.

3) Jamie (Colin Firth) is a recent bachelor following his divorce from his unfaithful wife who he caught with his brother. As Jamie takes a break from love to concentrate on his new novel, his new Portuguese housekeeper, Aurélia (Sienna Guillory) catches his eye and vice versa — if only the fact that they speak two different languages wasn’t a factor.

4) Harry (the late Alan Rickman) is a manager at a design agency with a hot, young secretary named Mia (Heike Makatsch) who is insanely attracted to him and the feeling is mutual, which is all well and good — except Harry’s married to Karen (Emma Thompson) who picks up on Mia’s attraction and also sees the very real danger that Harry’s about to stray.

5) Karen’s brother, David (Hugh Grant) has been elected the new Prime Minister of the UK while Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) is one of his staff members who is nervously attracted to the young bachelor/leader. Put off by a visit from the President of the United States (Billy Bob Thornton) where he catches the President making inappropriate comments toward Natalie and, later, witnesses the POTUS getting physically close to her, David attempts to push Natalie away for the greater good — but he finds that’s not as easy as he imagined.

6) Karen’s other brother Daniel (Liam Neeson) has just lost his wife and struggles with his stepson Sam (Thomas Sangster) who seems horribly depressed. When he attempts to console his young son, he finds that his son isn’t really depressed. He’s in love with an American student named Joanna (Olivia Olson) and wants to impress her. Willing to help his son get what he wants, Daniel suffers through his son’s new hobby: learning how to play the drums so he can play in the band for his school’s Christmas play.

7) One of Harry’s employees, Sarah (Laura Linney), is in love with her co-worker, her company’s Creative Director Karl (Rodrigo Santoro). As Sarah and Karl finally get the chance to consummate their romance, Sarah finds that her responsibilities to look after her mentally ill brother take precedence over her desires.

8) Colin (Kris Marshall) doesn’t seem to have any success with the girls in his country so he makes a journey to the United States where he meets three beautiful women (Ivana Miličević, January Jones, and Elisha Cuthbert) all who find his “Britishness” to be uber-charming. It only gets better for Colin when Harriet (Shannon Elizabeth) joins the mix.

9) John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) are professional stand-ins for major actors in motion pictures. After meeting for several sex scenes, the two form a friendship which blossoms into romance.

And everyone is intertwined. Paths twist and meet and go their separate ways.

WHAT DID CRITICS THINK?: It got mostly positive reviews — but the film still divides audiences. On the one hand, critics called it out for being incredibly sappy and needlessly complicated. Others said that the film was magical and that the Christmas background served it well.

WHAT DID I THINK?: All right, I’ll make you a deal, if you give me a pass on Elf, you can have a pass on Love, Actually. Admittedly, this movie grew on me. It took me 13 years for me to open up my cold, cold heart to it and invite it in. A couple years ago, I contributed to an article at The Workprint where I wrote, “Love, Actually is pandering, cloying, terribly stupid (Christ on a crutch, the story about the dumb, toothy British dude somehow roping in three different women in one night…wow…no, that doesn’t happen on this planet or in any dimension), and has some incredibly unbelievable stories. A woman sacrifices a relationship with the man she’s been obsessing over for YEARS in order to take care of her mentally ill brother? C’mon.” And…yeah. Those stories are still ridiculous in my eyes. In fact, most, if not all, of these stories are downright silly because of the execution of the concept: at times, it feels like you’re watching a series of really long coffee commercials.

Everything witnessed is a fantasy. Nothing seems real.

Everything is an exaggeration of the truth. And, perhaps, that’s where the magic lies.

As the great Steve Martin once said in his romantic opus, L.A. Story: “A kiss may not be the truth — but is is what we wish were true.

Because some of us have been in a broken marriage or relationship, most of us have secretly pined for that man or woman and just can’t let them know how we feel, and all of us, in some way, are lonely and longing for any kind of human connection. When Love, Actually falters, it’s eye-rollingly bad. But when it’s good (and this is more often than not), you feel it as deeply as the characters who are experiencing it. And that’s magnified by the fact that it takes place during the time of year when a Christmas song or the sight of decorations can bring you additional warmth or break you in half.


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