Sometimes you think you have seen a movie and it turns out you are mistaken. I was originally asked to review Heart and Souls (1993) but could not find a digital format on which to view it. So I asked for a replacement and was given Love Actually (2003). My brain originally went to Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), but that idea was quickly shot down. And then I thought of About a Boy (2002) because it also has Hugh Grant in it, and as Love Actually started I thought it was the older one I was watching. It was not until preparing for this review that I realized that they were two different movies and I was simply misremembering. How my brain functions is interesting, is it not? I have fond memories of Crazy, Stupid, Love and About a Boy. As for Love Actually, well. . . .
I am going to deviate from my usual review format in describing Love Actually, mainly because there is no plot. Thankfully there is a central idea, and that is to show relationships of various kinds. This can be frustrating and humorous. While watching it, I realized that, for a person who likes a well crafted story like me, it would have worked better as a series rather than a stand alone film. I say this for two reasons. First, this has the ensemble cast of all ensemble casts, with no one person truly being the star. That can work in a series, but in a movie it tends to be a mess. The second reason is that the various threads the film attempts to weave together are tantalizingly compelling, but told episodically and are thus shallow. I want to see each one of these couples fully develop. As it stands, the film relies on two people basically making eyes at each other as the basis for getting together. Physical attraction is important, even to a square Catholic like me, but there needs to be a little more to the rapport that develops between people. We can see the potential pitfalls of basing who we like and do not like with Harry (Alan Rickman). His young and attractive secretary, Mia (Heike Makatsch), makes all kinds of suggestive advances. The problem is that Harry is married to Karen (Emma Thompson), they have two daughters, and by all appearances they are happy. But Mia’s actions muddy the waters, and nothing appears resolved between the two of them by the end of the film.
The complications that can arise from simply going for whoever you think is hot can be found in other parts of Love Actually. Perhaps the most obvious is the various struggles of Colin (Kris Marshall) in finding an English women that will go to bed with him. Because he encounters nothing but rebuttals, his brilliant plan is to travel to Wisconsin (of all places) where he believes females will want to strip off their clothes for him simply because of his accent. And it actually happens, unfortunately. Yet the one relationship that I feel symbolizes the disordered way our society views couples is that between John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page). They are stand-ins for sex scenes in movies, and every time we cut to them they are wearing less clothing and in a more provocative position. And yet they carry on chatting as if they were taking a stroll in the park. I see this and (after immediately closing my eyes or turning away, of course) sometimes I think that the more fundamentalist sects of Islam have it right. Women reserve revealing their bodies in such ways for their husbands. Christians do not follow this because there is a job we men have to do in guarding a woman’s chastity, and I really do not believe that every lady needs to don a burka. But when we have a movie like Love Actually that trivializes the act of giving yourself to one person, it just makes me wish that we exercised a little more restraint as a society. There is a certain power that God grants us in our bodies, one that allows us to take part in the generative abilities of God. This is why sex is such a big deal, and should not be shared so liberally. There is something we can never get back from such acts that wounds us in ways that are beyond our full understanding. Now, by turning to God we can recapture some of this for only though Him can we be made whole, but such ideas are far from this film.
This is all not to say that Love Actually is completely without merit. When Jamie (Colin Firth) finds out that his girlfriend is cheating on him, he decides to travel to France to begin working on a new novel. While there he falls in love with Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz, who plays St. Lucia’s mother in Fatima), his maid, despite the fact that she cannot speak English and he could not speak her native Portuguese. Yet there is a little more meat here, particularly as she heroically jumps into freezing water to save the pages of his novel that had drifted into a pond. Such acts can take two people much further than any twinkling of the eye. Oddly enough on a personal level, the other relationship I found some genuine goodness in is between Mark (Andrew Lincoln) and Juliet (Keira Knightley). I felt for Mark as he evidently loved Juliet, though he had been the best man at her wedding to Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor). And again we have an attraction that does not come about because of significant stares, at least not directly. It is revealed when Juliet comes to Mark to make peace because she believes he dislikes her, but then sees how all the filming he did during their ceremony focused on her. His standoffishness was due to his desire not to cause any trouble for his friend Peter, and I commend him for his restraint. While they do share a brief kiss, it is set up as a parting gift rather than the beginning of something more. As Mark walks away, he smiles and says, “Enough.” Too often people just chase after whoever catches their fancy. God calls us to be a little more discerning.
What you have just read is most, but not all, of the relationships in Love Actually. Here is a visual representation of them and the others, and how they all fit together courtesy of Wikipedia:
Do not bother trying to figure this all out. As you can see, it is ridiculous, and why I say there is no plot. Still, it is genuinely funny at times. And sweet. I applauded when Sarah (Laura Linney) left her long anticipated night with Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) to tend to her special needs brother Michael (Michael Fitzgerald). Her and Karl were about to have sex, but I like to think that an angel was watching over her with how many times her brother kept calling and interrupting them. Still, the film has a surprising amount of nudity and swearing in it that you must contend with if you wish to get to such scenes as when Sarah goes to see Michael. And under no circumstance should a father (or step-father) like Daniel (Liam Neeson) tell his son (or step-son) Sam (Thomas Sangster) that you are going to have sex in his room. For anything else I am missing, please refer to the confusing chart above.