This was a hard one for me to finish, in both getting around to watching the film and in finding the right words to say about it. None of this should be seen as a condemnation of the film itself. In all honesty, as maybe indicated by my review of Rudy, the concept of…well, exposure to that unique heartfelt connection is something that has been both a major desire and a cinematic fascination for me. I got romance out of a flipping Fighting Irish football tale, for Pete’s sake! So anyway, seeing a story that actually tries to describe everything about love, in all its innocence and anxieties and barriers and pain and potential, thus comes across as both a humbling testimony and something of a personal challenge. And anything to stall studying for an EMT exam on airways is welcomed, so let’s begin.
#15 – LOVE ACTUALLY
Now I understand why people were so unbelievably angry and skeptical when not one, but TWO blatant rip-offs of this classic were made by Hollywood recently. [You know, besides having Taylor Swift and Mr. Twilight Werewolf featured as central characters.] Basically, this is the quintessential intertwining-paths story, proclaiming the universal message that “love actually is all around” if you keep your eyes open for it (that phrase is actually used in the intro, a tad forced but forgivable). Yes, love is all around, and no single path is on East Street. Some struggle after discovering infidelity (Colin Firth), while others struggle with its temptation (Alan Rickman). Some yearn to bring a fantasized relationship to life (Laura Linney), while others grieve over a love recently lost (Liam Nesson). Their jobs can range from Prime Ministers (Hugh Grant) to aging rock-and-rollers (Bill Nighy) to sex-related “stunt doubles”, and difficulties in matters of the heart do not show any bias to beliefs, lifestyle or overall power and wealth. But in small ways, they all intersect to create a story about wanting someone else to care for in the weeks leading up to Christmas Day.
Believable, emotion-laden (and thus relatable) acting is conveyed by nearly every cast member involved – a group that is essentially a Who’s Who in British cinema for the early 2000s. We, of course, get initial impressions of each set of characters beforehand. The rock star is a blathering has-been who needs to be constantly reigned in (major kudos for the Ant and Dec cameo, by the way), the Prime Minister naturally has an eye on one of his staff workers, and a stepfather and son struggle to connect after a family death. Much like in the news, and in many films, you are tempted to think that this is all that is relevant to our judgment of them. But like for every character, our view is forced to dig deeper – including the moments when these characters, respectively, display bitter loneliness and regret, resistance to temptation, and connection through a crazy mission. No presentation of humanity feels cheap here and not one storyline feels forced. There is a very good reason why this feels genuine and the other films rip-offs, as director Richard Curtis emerges as a conductor unafraid to let each story reach its logical and full conclusion, for better and for worse.
Not everybody finds the love they desire, and not every negative action or mistake can be resolved with a mournful apology and proclamation of love. (In fact, the epilogue that takes place one month following Christmas ensures this.) But in a way, it gives a little bit of hope in the process by emphasizing that it is natural to stumble with such an instinctive and outright intoxicating emotion, one that draws from the core of our very personalities and general nature as human beings. And unlike in other films, where it felt like some were shoehorned in for the sake of a preachy message or plot convenience (*cough* Crash *cough* preachy Paul Haggis *coughcoughcough*), nobody is presented as morally deficient or villainous. Most people are not. Some make better choices than others, but there are legitimate feelings and reasons behind each of them; and thus every person finds someone they can relate to. [For me, oddly enough, it would be the aging rocker at this point. When it is hard to find that fairy-tale connection, your camaraderie with friends makes you realize that not finding true love yet does not mean you are unloved. It helps.]
And in a film like this, it is the little moments that are absolutely touching. Seeing so many character both powerful and modest merge on a Christmas Nativity play…spotting security chasing a character through the airport…the wedding (no spoilers, they do a classic British group justice)…just too many to count. And much like a series of interconnected arteries shooting oxygenated blood cells to the bodily organs before shooting back to the heart (God, I’ve been reading too much from the textbook), if I try to explain one scene, it is going to trigger spoiler alerts for every other plotline in this classic love story. So let’s wrap this up before it’s too late with a simple statement: There are very few films that are considered “must-see” and “instant classic” before the decade is even over, and I have heard this one mentioned more than almost any other that did not have a posthumous performance in makeup, a magic wand or a ring to rule us all. IIs it corny? Surely. Does some of the dialogue feel a bit contrived? Absolutely. But in terms of giving each character the dignity of being human onscreen, this film deserves a congratulatory bouquet of roses. Preferably a full dozen.
[Overall Score: 9/10, a perfect date-movie]
TOMORROW (DAY 16): GRIZZLY MAN