Since 2003, Love Actually has become almost a part of the holiday season. It is on TV, the DVDs are on sale. Some people love it, some people don’t; for me, I always have viewed it as a beautiful mess.
What I mean by that is that I see the well-intentioned heart under the surface, but there is a lot of embarrassing junk covering it up. You know what I mean, the stuff you throw away that you hope not even the garbage man sees.
The film also makes me sad, because it is a slipup of a writer I actually enjoy most of the time (and it could be argued should have known better). While in the movie world he is known mainly for romantic-comedies (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones), in my opinion his genius has always thrived in television. Richard Curtis is the man who gave us Black Adder, Mr. Bean, The Vicar of Dibley and probably one of the greatest Doctor Who episodes of all time (“Vincent and the Doctor”). If you don’t know what I am referring to here, check them out pronto!
But here is the kicker, while most movies after they are completed are what they are and we have to accept it, there is so much going on in Love Actually that a little correcting doesn’t feel impossible.
It would be like going to a barber but for films. A snip here, a snip there and suddenly we have a film that maybe the whole family can enjoy. Granted, some of my hopes are beyond the skills of the editor (unless we are lucky and there are deleted scenes out there), but quite a few of these could be done almost easily, all it would take are a pair of sharp scissors. I will even put a Christmas bow on them if it helps.
Let’s get this one out of the way first.
The story of horny Colin who believes he can get some nudge-nudge if he heads to America is probably the worst thing in the entire film. And to make it even worse, it works!
While in America he bumps into sexy young actress after sexy young actress, until he emerges at the end of the film a hero. Returning to England with a beautiful girlfriend and even one for his friend. How nice for him and how demeaning to women at the same time!
Frankly, his storyline objectifies women and awards him for it. Is that really the right message for this movie?
Actually, this is one of two instances in the film where there seems to be an anti-American vibe. I don’t want to get into this too much. Considering the time this film came out (about ten months after the invasion of Iraq), there is a chance we might have deserved one of those.
So why have this storyline? What is Mr. Curtis trying to say about love with Colin? In many ways, it feels like something from another film or a skit he had sitting around on his desk he wanted to use.
Whatever the case, Colin has nothing to do with any of the other storylines in the film and doesn’t add anything to the overall message of the film. He is about sex, not love. Cut!
Martin Freeman is in many ways one of the most important actors of nerdom. I would go so far as to even say that he almost reaches Harrison Ford status. Martin Freeman is Bilbo Baggins and Doctor Watson on Sherlock. He is even freaking Arthur Dent! So it is difficult for me to say this…
I think the scenes with Martin Freeman should be edited out too.
See, most of his scenes are about him and an actress (who is nude) acting out sexual positions as stand-ins for a major motion picture. The joke in it is how normal their conversations are while they are both nude. And like the Colin storyline, they are not connected to the other stories. There is no crossover.
I have no problem with nudity in film, as long as it is used to move a plot forward, not as a gimmick or cheap thrill for the audience (at the expense of the actress). In this instance, it is a straight-up gimmick.
There! Now it is almost more a family film and you can watch it with grandma and not feel awkward.
Those two first cuts are easy (and cut down the running time nicely) and the film is better for it.
Why the Fat Jokes?
There are two moments in the film where fat jokes come up. Both feel mean-spirited and really add nothing to the story. If anything they seem to send a message that weight impacts a person’s ability to be loved.
The first weight jokes are around the Prime Minister (played by Hugh Grant) and his love for his maid Natalie. Everyone refers to her as having a big bottom. That is how they remember her! First off, it is demeaning to her, but in the instances it takes place does it seem at all appropriate? For example, one reference is in an office with the Prime Minister. Do people really talk like this to Prime Ministers?
Now I can live with the first example, if we can drop the second happening. In the story of the author named Jamie who also falls in love with a servant (are you noticing a trend around the role of women in this film?) he visits her dad’s house to ask for her hand in marriage. While Jamie (with music swelling in the background) leads a line of onlookers to find his love, the dad spends most of his time belittling his other daughter who is heavy. He even refers to her as “Miss Dunkin’ Donut 2003.” (Would they even know what Dunkin’ Donuts are in that country?) It’s an odd decision.
No, really, it is a very odd writing decision.
Think about it.
The main point at that moment is about finding love, so why are we wasting our time being cruel to the other sister?
By the way, this would be a really easy correction. Maybe the easiest. Take out the translation subtitles. The scene would be more dramatic as well with them removed.
Ever since The Graduate, romantic-comedies have been haunted by the chase scene. You all know what I mean, that moment when the male lead decides what he wants and chases the woman lead to explain that. Then there are smiles, passionate speeches, kissing, blah, blah, blah…
Love Actually has three chases like this. Three! One would have been fine, but three?
Granted, this annoyance of mine would not be an easy correction for an editor. This is my pipe dream in the list, but consider…
Why are women represented as passive in the matters of the heart in this film? From Laura Linney’s Sarah to Kiera Knightley’s Juliet (who was still a teenager at the time of this film by the way) to Emma Thompson’s Karen, each woman in the film is either “found” by the man or is forgotten by him. They never play an active role in their own life and heart. So if there wasn’t that “ah ha” moment by the man, where would they have been?
Here is my request, which again is probably the one request in my list that is not possible, why can’t one of the female characters chase down a male and win his heart?
I even have a contender for this role.
Sarah is one of the tragic characters in the film. She is infatuated with someone in her office, but is also taking care of her brother who has mental issues. For some reason not explained her brother is able to call her all the time from his mental institution and she takes each call. (Seriously, where are the doctors and nurses?) Taking these calls ruins her chances at love, because she never bothers to explain the issue to Karl (the guy from her office).
So… picture this… she decides on Christmas what she wants. And like the two men and boy who are chasing their hearts, she does the same. Out of breath, she corners him some place, tells him all about her brother, and this opens his eyes and heart.
It would be a nice reversal, wouldn’t it?
It would also add a lot more strength to all of the female characters and the overall message. Because love should be a partnership, and right now it doesn’t feel like that in the land of Love Actually.
Here is my hope, to all of the film nerds like me. My plea.
This is my shoutout.
Stop re-editing the Star Wars prequels, and turn your attention to Love Actually.
I know there are people that can do it. And while my dream of fixing the Laura Linney plot is probably not in the cards (even though I’m sure she could step in and re-film in an instance, all she is doing is hosting Masterpiece Theater right now… which, lets be honest, is just a re-broadcast of British television shows pretending to be fancy and important). There is just the potential to really make a great romantic-comedy, maybe even an important one.
The thing is the holidays are filled with messes, especially after opening the presents. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one less mess on the screen?
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I just watched Love Actually the other night – it’s one of my favorite films this time of year and I must say, you nailed it with the story bumps. I watched it with my almost 17-year-old daughter (who had never seen it before) and I really, really wished the porn couple and the storyline of Colin going to America was NOT in the film. (Although, maybe they were needed to examine the more shallow aspects of human interactions…? But I, like you, could have done without them.)
I did, however, like the way the Sarah storyline developed. I’m glad she didn’t get both men (mentally ill brother and office man) because her “love, actually” was the love between siblings, the love between a caregiver and a family member at the expense of her personal life. It intensified the depth of her love because her love came with sacrifice. It was tragically beautiful and really illuminated the many kinds of love we humans experience.
There’s a powerful moment in the movie that defines this character’s limits with her brother in the scene where he tries to hit her and she stops him and says, “No, my darling. Don’t do that.” (Probably not the exact words – but close.) I viewed that moment in the storytelling as the most important moment for her and took it to mean: that while he is constantly pushing boundaries with her by calling at all hours of the day and consuming her life to a point beyond what many people would tolerate – when he pushes a boundary that is not okay with her, she is forceful and clear with him that he is not to do THAT. And okay, yes, a male nurse stepped in – but I think that was a good choice in the scriptwriting to illustrate through the male nurse the brother’s strength and the real risk to Sarah at that moment. Despite how high the stakes were for Sarah during that scene – she defined for herself and then told her brother what she was NOT willing to take. While she tolerated A LOT and was willing to sacrifice A LOT for him – she did still set boundaries and clearly defined what her limits were.
Sarah, like the woman who learns while opening Christmas presents with their children that her husband is cheating on her (OMG what a scene in the bedroom when she’s crying OMG! OMG! OMG!), is a tragic character that helps illuminate for viewers the outer edges of love. Rather than happy endings everywhere, the uncomfortable, sad, tragic depictions of love cause us to go deeper and really makes this film a gem.
(Like one of my favorite moments in the film when the rockstar professes his love for his manager. The words he uses are a perfect, comically way of saying that love is unpredictable, not planned, odd, really.)
I love this film – and loved reading your observations. My apologies for exceeding typical word count limits for comment sections. I’m supposed to be working on my novel. Hhmm… How’d I find myself so distracted? Focus, Julie. Focus! 🙂
Yes! Get back to work on your book! LOL
No worries on the length, these kind of conversations are fun.
The first time I saw the film was in the theater with my parents and my wife (we had only been married a year then). Yeah, the “porn” couple did feel awkward. Not exactly family friendly viewing.
Do you see the Sarah moment as a change from what it was before? I mean, we had never seen her before with her brother except that moment, right? And in her phone call with him that night she is using the same tone and correcting him.
I totally agree about Colin and the porn couple. From the first time I saw it (in theater) I said it would be a lovely family movie except for those parts. Glad to have someone who agrees! Lots of great points in this post- the passivity of the women and the weight comments also bother me.
Cheers! I’m glad you liked the post!
Call me shallow, but…RODRIGO SANTORO! I would have lost that cell phone so fast my brother wouldn’t have known what hit him.
With Colin I was just amused. I’m one of those American babes who get all happy when I hear an English accent, so I chuckled quite a bit at them having him say words just so they could hear him talk.