Love Actually

(or Please Keep Your Bah Humbug to Yourself)

It has come to my attention that some people do not share in my love for the classic holiday movie Love Actually.  Now this is fine as we do not all have to share the same taste in movies – or anything for that matter.  But what I don’t get is the need to publicly bash this movie and let everyone, everywhere, know of your disdain for this one particular flick.  And it seems to me, completely unnecessary to hurl all this hatred towards a movie that is all about love.

If I could make just one wish for the new year, it would be that we fill this world up with love.  There is enough hate, there is no need to add to it.  So you don’t like the movie.  Then don’t watch it.  But there is no need to spew your hatefulness, to add to the toxicity that already exists or to bash the people who do like this quirky, silly movie about love.  Unless you are a professional movie critic, please keep your negative, bitter, smug comments to yourself.  No one needs to (or even wants to) hear your rantings.

I agree that the movie is a certifiable overstuffed holiday buffet – but for me, that means there is something for everyone.  The movie includes just about every kind of love: romantic, sexual, platonic, tarnished, dreary, reciprocated, intoxicating, neglected, unrequited, habitual, anomalous, parental, familial, friendly, true.  If you can’t find something to love from that list, then I question your ability to love at all.  So I just don’t get how a movie about love could be so polarizing.

And yes, it’s silly and relentlessly fluffy, implausible and completely all over the place.  If you’ve watched it as many times as I have, you will pick up on all kinds of inconsistencies – timelines and plot-lines that don’t make any sense at all.  For example, the movie starts out a mere 5 weeks til Christmas – and there is no way all that action and falling in and out of love could happen in such a short space of time.  But that’s not the point, and I try not to over-analyze it and instead just remember the very first time I saw the movie, when I was swept away by the possibility and inter-connectedness, which seemed believable enough.

There are just two movies that I can recall, in very vivid detail, seeing for the first time.  I distinctly remember the time, the place and all the emotions I experienced in the movie theater.  I love going to the movies, seeing the action unfold on the big screen, and that magical experience of being transported somewhere else.  The first such movie was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, when I felt so totally immersed in the world of Hogwarts that I completely forgot I was sitting in a movie theater in Chelsea.  And the second was Love Actually.

It was December of 2003 and we had been hit by a blizzard.  My wife and I were still dating and living in Brooklyn, so it was a storm big enough to shut down the city.  I remember that we had been stuck in our little apartment for enough days that we were going stir-crazy.  There was an old movie theater a few blocks down from our place, kind of old and run-down, not my first choice of theater, but good enough under the circumstances.  I remember trudging through the snow in our boots and staying bundled up in our coats even inside the theater.  And I remember getting completely lost in the characters and their interwoven stories of life and love.  I was so taken with the whole experience that I didn’t notice the parts that didn’t make sense, I didn’t dwell on the kookiness or absurdity.  I just took in the whole experience and it became one of my all-time favorite movies.  Maybe it would have been different if we had seen it in a different theater on a different night under a different set of circumstances.  But as it turned out, it was perfectly magical and I was enamored and it’s probably why the movie has so endured in my memory.

Some criticize the supposedly crass opening of the movie:

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere.

Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there — fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, and old friends.

When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge — they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around.

But I think the timing of this movie also plays into my emotional response of it.  It was released in 2003 and the embers of the fallen Twin Towers, only a few miles away from us in Brooklyn, were still burning.  Maybe not literally, but definitely figuratively.  It was still a very fresh, raw wound, and to make reference to that day made sense.  Plus we like to do our own re-enactment of key scenes whenever we find ourselves passing through Heathrow airport, running down long corridors, imagining the adrenaline rush of chasing after love.

And the cast!  How could you not love a movie that puts the likes of Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson – all in one place.  I love the all-star, mostly British, cast – it’s not beneath them to do a silly movie every once in a while.  So why can’t we just watch and enjoy?  Director Richard Curtis even had this to say about his casting in an article in the Guardian:

We thought we had a good mix of people who were quite famous and those who weren’t. Funny how unbalanced it all looks today, now that Martin Freeman is the Hobbit, January Jones is in Mad Men, and Chiwetel Ejiofor is in 12 Years a Slave.

I also find it interesting that the movie received mostly positive review in the United Kingdom, but very mixed reviews in the United States.  Why is it that the British can enjoy, and even relish, a silly movie about love but us Americans have to be so critical?  Isn’t that ironic?

This movie is actually the source of some of our most-often quoted lines, from any movie: “it was always going to be a totally shit time” and “just in cases” and of course, “who do you have to screw around here to get a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit?”  Then there’s the greatest scene of all, one that we will always pause if the other is out of the room so that we can watch, and cheer, together:

I love that word “relationship”. Covers all manner of sins, doesn’t it? I fear that this has become a bad relationship. A relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to, erm… Britain. We may be a small country but we’re a great one, too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham’s right foot. David Beckham’s left foot, come to that. And a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward, I will be prepared to be much stronger. And the President should be prepared for that.

For a long time, this was my go-to cry movie.  The movie that I could count on to bring me to tears.  Everyone needs one of those movies – the kind that will trigger a really good cry.  But I’ve seen it too many times now and it’s lost some of it’s magic in that respect.  But that doesn’t stop me from watching it, and not just at the holidays either.

When I was in college, I was part of a psychology study that was trying to predict the likelihood of two strangers getting along.  Based on a personality quiz, the researchers had plotted our personalities like sound waves, with the theory that those with similarly shaped consonant waves would get along and those with dissonant waves would not.  We were paired up and shown a movie clip and asked to discuss what we watched.  I have no idea the movie we were shown, but I do remember the movie we decided to discuss, a shared favorite – The Sound of Music.  You wouldn’t have to be a psychology researcher to know that my partner and I were clearly in the consonant group!  I remember that my partner kept suggesting that we try to stay focused on the given assignment, but we were having much too fun talking about one of the greatest movies of all time (do not debate me on this one!).  I’ve always wondered why we didn’t exchange contact information at the end of our experiment as we clearly had a connection.  But our paths never crossed again, to my knowledge at least.

That’s the power of movies: to bring us together, to create a shared experience, to entertain the impractical, to show the possible – and that includes hopelessly romantic, irrational, daft stories about love.  I really think I should use Love Actually as my new litmus test when meeting new people – you don’t have to love the movie, but I don’t think I want to associate with anyone who openly disdains it!!  “Hi, nice to meet you. So tell me what you think about the classic holiday film Love Actually?”

The last movie I saw in a movie theater was this year’s release of The Grinch, which ended with the heart-warming lines:

Narrator: And the Grinch raised his glass, and led the Whos in a toast.

Grinch: To kindness and love, the things we need most!

 Indeed, kindness and love, actually.

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