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Truly Great Movies Holiday Edition – Love Actually

December 7, 2009

A New Classic

I find it telling that when I went to to do some much needed research for this post, I saw that it was “up 18%”.   Yep.  Come,my friends, and let us rejoice in the awesomeness that is Bill Nighy.

I thoroughly enjoyed Love Actually when I first saw it in the theater, but I had no idea how much of a holiday staple this movie would become in my world.  Quite frankly, it ranks up there with A Christmas Story and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation when it comes to movies one must watch during the holiday season.

Love Actually is chock-full of some of the most wonderful British stars of this half-century:  Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson,  and Hugh Grant.  It also stars Denise Richards in a brief cameo, based on what I’m sure is a result of her stunning acting as, ironically enough, Dr. “Christmas” Jones in The World Is Not Enough.   But, I digress…

Love Actually is set in London in 2002, chronicling the lives of eight different “couples” during the weeks before Christmas.  The different pairings meet with varying degress of success (I could have done without Colin Firth’s subplot entirely), but for the most part the jumbled mix of partnerships works.

Liam Neeson and Thomas Sangster are Daniel and his step-son Sam.  Daniel’s wife (Sam’s mom) has just passed away and Daniel (in varying degrees of hilarity and poignancy) is trying to help Sam navigate the wonders and perils of first love. 

We need Kate and Leo...

Daniel: [laughs] Aren’t you a bit young to be in love?
Sam: No.
Daniel: Oh, well, okay… right. Well, I mean, I’m a little relieved.
Sam: Why?
Daniel: Well, because I thought it would be something worse.
Sam: [incredulous] Worse than the total agony of being in love?
Daniel: Oh. No, you’re right. Yeah, total agony

Daniel’s best friend, Karen (Emma Thompson) is married to Harry, who is one step away from cheating on her with his femme fatale (and extremely bug-eyed) secretary.  The scene where Karen realizes that this has actually happened is heart-breakingly set to Joni Mitchell.   Still, it is Karen’s scenes with her kids that are the most wonderful, showing  just what a true loving parent will do to protect her children.  Check out the deleted scene where the son gets in trouble at school.  I can understand why it was cut, but it is a gem.   And, oh, the school play, where there aren’t enough Biblical parts in the nativity scene…

Karen: So what’s this big news, then?
Daisy: [excited] We’ve been given our parts in the nativity play. And I’m the lobster.
Karen: The lobster?
Daisy: Yeah!
Karen: In the nativity play?
Daisy: [beaming] Yeah, *first* lobster.
Karen: There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?
Daisy: Duh.

Karen’s husband’s co-worker, Sarah (Laura Linney, who just barely missed making the cut in my Five Actresses I’d Watch in Anything list) , meanwhile is in love with the hunky Karl,  but her first priority is her emotionally disturbed brother.  Sarah’s storyline is the only one which does not get “wrapped up” neatly at the end, which I appreciate it if only in terms of realism. 

All hail the Christmas lobster

Karen’s younger brother (Hugh Grant) plays a blithe and witty Prime  Minister who can’t keep his eyes of  off the curvy new Tea Girl, Natalie (Martine McCutcheon).  Grant is at his best when he’s more of a buffoon, and his scene with the portrait of poor Baroness Thatcher is one of the movie’s most amusing moments.

The last “pairing” worth mentioning is the all-time greatest “bro-mance” between aging rocker Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) and his sad-sack manager, Joe.  These two provide some of the greatest “oh no, they didn’t'” moments in movie history and Billy sells his soul (and his sense of rhyme scheme) to produce one of those god-awful holiday records no decent artist makes other than to score some cold hard cash.  This particular ditty is called “Christmas is All Around”, and Billy knows it is crap.  He appears on Britain’s version of TRL to promote it and feels the need to give the kids some great advice:

Billy Mack: Hiya kids. Here is an important message from your Uncle Bill. Don’t buy drugs. Become a pop star, and they give you them for free!

Because if you really love Christmas...

Most of the other “couples” are not as memorable, but the film as a whole works well despite the challenges of carrying so many intertwining plotlines.  It manages to be truly funny and heart-warming without veering towards the unforgivably sappy.

In short, love, as the opening and closing sequence reminds us, “actually is all around us”. 

Enjoy, and Have a Very Happy Holiday Season!


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