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Saccharine coated sleaze
Love Actually (DVD)
Member Name: cmh4135
Love Actually (DVD)
Advantages: A good Brit Flick example
Disadvantages: Doesn't submit well to analysis
The cast-list is a veritable feast of the “great and the good” and promotional material for the movie played on this with advertising in the form of a simple list of names: Atkinson, McCutcheon, Firth, Grant, Thompson and Rickman to name a few.
This movie was billed as being the big Christmas hit of 2003, using big names to ride on the wave created by the likes of Four Weddings and Bridget Jones, to take it to the top. It succeeded. Can the magic last though? What did I think of it? Was it Love Actually?
*** THE PLOT ***
No spoilers from me although that, for once, is not going to be hard. There’s not so much of a plot as a mish mash of 9 or 10 romances (I lost count) rolled into one big story in a contrived and predictable manner.
Whilst the previous statement does not paint too rosy a picture of the film that’s not to say that it’s not good. Twenty minutes into the film I was asking myself why I was there and what was the point of the film, an hour into the film and I was thoroughly engrossed, able to ignore the seemingly chasmic jumps between the various threads and enjoying the film for what it was: but what was it?
The film follows the lives of around twenty characters in the run up to Christmas. Everyone from the Prime Minister to the tea girl, the mourning step-father to the ageing rock star seems to be either “loved up” or needing love. Far from being a traditional romance, the film sets out to look at love in all its guises and addresses not only the sickly sweet Christmas romance but also the bitter hurt and pain of unrequited love, the misery of being hurt and the fear of taking a chance.
If there is such a thing as a “Curtis formula” then it has been employed here to good effect. The plot lines are feel-good without being sickeningly sweet and somehow one just overlooks the cracks to see a whole.
The connections between the characters are astounding. Forget the seven degrees of Bacon – try one degree of a geek called Colin. See the film and you’ll see what I mean.
*** THE CHARACTERISATION AND ACTING ***
Normally the part of a review that I enjoy writing, in this instance it will not be easy. Although the film is long (130 minutes) there are so many characters that comments on their ability would be born of little evidence.
Starting first with characterisation, Curtis has done well. As with his former offerings, the characters are more caricature than person and yet there is something so clearly identifiable in what we see before us. Only the hardened anti-romantic will fail to see something of themselves in one of the characters.
Whilst portrayed as extremes, this style does not detract from the believability of the characters. Indeed, parts of the story line itself are more unbelievable than the outlandish behaviour of the characters (whoever heard of a lobster at the Virgin Birth?).
The acting is, well, just that. No-one in particular stands out for mention, save perhaps for Martine McCutcheon who surprised by pulling off a very convincing char lady in service to the Prime Minister. The token cute child comes in the form of Thomas Sangster – all doe-eyed and um, well, cute. Thomas is probably best known for his role as Barney in the BBC’s Stig of the Dump. He plays his role adequately but is hindered a little by the scripting.
The short story lines that the characters follow are condensed (a la Reader’s Digest) and as a result there is no real time for anyone to shine.
*** CINEMATOGRAPHY ***
The film is set mainly in London (although certain scenes are set in the South of France). The surroundings are familiar and this for me added a little to the appeal. I’ve sat on the same bench as Liam Neeson (outside the French Restaurant at Gabriel’s Wharf) as he finds out that his 10 year old son is hopelessly in love. I’ve been into the art gallery that is the scene of Christmas Party antics. Heck, I can even see my office in a fair few places!
Such familiarity adds to the depth of the story but I don’t think that those less familiar with London will be disappointed. The cinematography is simple, it’s slightly arty but above all English. The direction doesn’t show life as anything other than it really is and that, for me is great.
This is a film that you watch for the experience. The cinematography adds to that experience but doesn’t stand on its own.
*** MUSIC ***
Where do I start? Four Weddings set the ball rolling with “Love is all around” and Love, Actually carries that on with a cringe-worthy variation. That’s part of the story.
The truly incidental music is great. It’s non-invasive and won’t have you singing as you leave the cinema but it is noticeable during the film itself. Norah Jones, Dido and Joni Mitchell get their moments as does US pop-idol winner Kelly Clarkson with her single “The Trouble with Love is”.
The musical highlight though has to be 10 year-old Olivia Olson. Playing the object of young Sangster’s desires she sings “All I want for Christmas”. This has to be heard to be believed!
*** HUMOUR ***
One thing this film does have loads of is humour. Some of it is ultra-cheesy, some clever and contrived.
There are few “take home and play” jokes but that doesn’t seem to matter. It is rare to have a film where real belly-laughs erupt, especisally on a video. Rarer still that this happens in a romantic comedy where the order of the day seems to be a little buffoonery and not much humour.
*** POLITICS and SOCIOLOGY ***
You wouldn’t normally expect a romantic comedy to have political undercurrents but this one did. None too subtle digs were made at the Blairs and at George W. Even Al Qaeda get a look in with reference to the Twin Tower terrorist attacks.
This latter event was referred to, in my opinion, far too early in the film and you begin to wonder what this film was about. The PM/President digs were much later in the film and were received with merriment, the scene having been set and the viewing audience well and truly warmed up.
There is a nod to social tensions in a few of the story lines with inter-race marriages, acknowledgement that a gay relationship may exist, the role of step-parents and even caste behaviour. The different social angles don’t really hit home when watching the film, but as I have been analysing what went on to write this opinion I find more and more material. There’s more to this film than meets the eye.
*** SLEAZE MASQUERADING AS ROMANCE ***
There is a huge sexual overtone to the whole film. That is something one cannot escape whilst watching. When I sat down to work out why, I was bemused. There’s not much sex, and most of what there is is play-acting by two stand-ins for an erotic movie.
Art gallery walls are covered with pseudo-erotic art. Relationships with married men are brought about by less than subtle look-up-my-skirt poses. Pop videos are suggestive to say the least.
Meanwhile, drugs come “free when you’re a pop star” and we should be worried about the possibility of our 10 year-old “injecting heroine into his eyeballs”.
Profanity abounds in the film. It seems to be something that marks Curtis out as a screen writer, he is able to get away with more than most. At times, however, one wonders as to the effect that it is intended to create.
As I started thinking about this movie, the more I thought, the more I concluded that this was sleaze with a saccharine coating. But I enjoyed it.
*** PLAYING WITH YOUR EMOTION ***
One thing that Curtis is terribly good at is playing with your emotions. He takes you to the crest of a wave only to stop you from coming down the other side before repeating the process. Just as things get unbearably soppy we will be met with a great gag. Before we can cry in sympathy the mood changes again to a more upbeat one. This is an art form and will have the audience crying and not knowing why. Tears of joy, tears of sadness, tears of love or just self-recognition. Even the beefy boys were spotted with a hand to their eyes.
Whatever else love is, it’s not dignified!
*** AUDIENCE APPEAL ***
So, ultimately, who should rent or buy this? If you enjoyed the other Brit-flicks then there is no doubt that you will enjoy this.
Caution should be exercised with the younger audience.
*** WHAT WOULD I CHANGE? ***
In part I regret writing this opinion as it has made me stop to analyse a film that was possibly best left unanalysed. As a first impression the patchwork quilt of intertwined story lines produced a cohesive whole. As I stopped to think to write this I found more and more reason to question and criticise the material.
The charm that first appears gives way to reveal a lack of depth in the writing, the cutesy becomes sleazy and love becomes immorality.
I don’t think that this type of film benefits from analysis. I don’t think that that is what is intended. Taken at face value the film delivers. It delivers in quantity and quality.
Summary: Brit flick classic