Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Flick of the Week: "What did my brother do today? He stood up and fought for his country. And what did I do? I made a papier maché lobster head."

This week's flick of the week moves us with Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman from Sense and Sensibility to the Richard Curtis 2003 rom-com, Love Actually.

I have to admit being a bit of a softy for rom-coms - Notting Hill, When Harry Met Sally, Groundhog Day, heck even Two Weeks Notice (which seems to be on Channel 10 once every 7 weeks) will get me watching quite happily.

When I first heard about Love Actually, I was pretty excited - the cast was amazing, every English actor of any worth seemed to be in it - and Curtis's previous films were Bridget Jones's Diary and Notting Hill, so good things were to be expected.

And when I finally saw it, I have to say I hated it.

And then I saw it again, and liked it a bit more; watched it when it was on TV, liked it a bit more... but despite some great actors, and a fantastic DVD commentary by Hugh Grant and Bill Nighy I still can't say I really rate it all that highly on the romcom scale.

The problems are multiple and are linked with the fact that there are multiple story lines. As is often the case with such movies, too often some of the stories are very weak, and the others seem quite good, but you wish the whole movie was about them.

The characters are all somehow intertwined - I did try and link them all up, but in the end I couldn't be bothered, and you might as well just read the wikipedia entry for the film - and to be honest, you don't care how they are connected - and mostly it is all rather incongruous (much like the group of friends in Four Weddings and a Funeral).

I hated this film for two main reasons - firstly was the stupid length Curtis went to to put forward his standard thesis that English men can only be happy with American women. He did it is Four Weddings, he did it in Notting Hill, he did it in Bridget Jones and here he does it to the point of stupidity by having the dopey "Colin" go off to America and land himself on his first night there knee deep in the most beautiful women imaginable.

Ok, it's a romcom, and not to be taken seriously, but if one part of the film is so obviously stupid and unreal, how do we treat the rest?

Especially when so much of the other stories are absolutely devoid of romance and love.

Consider the storyline involving Mark (the sadly underused Andrew Lincoln) and Juliet (Keira Knightley). The big romance in that plot is of a guy who is in love with his best mate's bride. And the big moment involves him telling the woman that he loves her (but that he is content not to have her). Call me kind of weird, but that doesn't exactly have me choked with tears.

Another story has a woman (the wonderful Laura Linley) being in love with a guy, but unable to do anything about it because she has to spend all her time dealing with her mentally ill brother. They try to go out; it fails and pretty much that is it for them. Not quite Hepburn and Tracy

But the real kicker for me is the story of Karen (Emma Thompson), her husband Harry (Alan Rickman) and Mia (Heike Makatsch). In this story Harry cheats on Karen with Mia, and buys Mia an expensive necklace for Christmas. Karen had found the necklace in Harry's jacket and expected to get it for Christmas instead is given a Joni Mitchell CD. She then goes up to her room, and with Mitchell singing "Both Sides Now", she quietly breaks down.

It is the most amazing bit of acting you will ever be likely to see. Thompson is just incredible - her tears are quiet and restrained, but by God do you feel every ounce of her emotion. I would love to be able to show the clip, but due to the Mitchell song playing it has been taken down (Warner Bros are having a legal fight with youtube at the minute).

And so the best thing about the movie is also the worst. I wanted romantic comedy, what I got was unromantic-tragedy.

Ok there are romcom moments a plenty in the movie - Bill Nighy is fantastic, Hugh Grant could do his role in his sleep and still be great, and the Colin Firth story is predictable but lovely.

But it's too hard to keep the balance - you can't show someone being trashed, and then expect us to forget about her so we can enjoy the fact her brother, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, has fallen in love with a sweary young tea lady.

Since this doing this film the only movie Curtis has written is the Bridget Jones sequel, which suggests maybe he shouldn't have tried to squish every idea he ever had into one movie - sometimes less is more.

And lacking the Emma Thompson scene with "Both Sides Now", here's a clip of Joni Mitchell singing the version that plays while Thompson puts herself through the wringer and pulls herself together again. It is just a fantastic version of the song, and has a completely different emotion than the original version.

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