Revisiting Love Actually

When I got out my DVD of Love Actually, I realized how long it must have been since I watched it because it was the “full screen” edition. I vaguely recalled that being the only option I found when I bought it, but I didn’t remember it being an issue for me. I got the widescreen TV in 2006, but it’s possible that the TV automatically adjusted the picture to fit. I got the Blu-Ray player that shows it in the square instead of fitting the screen in 2011, so it’s been at least that long. I think I may have caught bits and pieces when the movie came on TV, but I haven’t watched the whole movie in at least seven years. Since then, I’ve read the various think pieces, deconstructions, and criticisms, so it was interesting to look at the movie in that light.

I think a lot of the “magic” of the movie for me involved the circumstances in which I first saw it. It had been a difficult week for me. I was in the middle of the first draft of the book that became Enchanted, Inc., and while that was a relatively easy book to write, I was at the hard part after I’d passed the stuff I’d known for a long time and I was having to figure things out. Meanwhile, I’d had to sing for the funeral of a friend that week, someone who was in the choir and who’d been fighting brain cancer for a few years. I got together with friends on Saturday for a girls’ day out. The theater was in one of those shopping centers that’s new but built to be kind of like an old town square, and it’s near downtown, so it really did feel like an old downtown area. We met up for a matinee, got pink girly drinks at the theater’s bar, and then after the movie we went to dinner, did some window shopping, and ended up at Starbucks, where we sat by the fireplace and had hot cocoa. I think a lot of what was going on with me in the movie was getting a good cathartic cry that I hadn’t allowed myself at the funeral since I was singing, and then all the lovely Christmas atmosphere in the movie also spilled into reality with the day we had.

As for the movie, one of the things I like about it is that it’s a mixed bag. When things aren’t going great, sometimes the perfect, happy world of a Christmas movie is a jarring contrast to your life. Having parts of the story be upsetting or depressing makes it not be quite so bad, but there are still happy parts, so the movie isn’t entirely depressing. This is a good holiday season movie to watch when you’re in a funny mood.

There were parts that always bugged me. For instance, I don’t really like the part with the friend obsessed with his best friend’s bride. I’ve never bought into the fictional notion that all feelings must be expressed and acted upon. He’d already had to admit that it wasn’t that he hated her but that he’d had to avoid her out of self-preservation. Going to their house to tell her he loved her, even though he said it was no expectation, was kind of a crappy thing to do as a friend. Be an adult and just deal with the fact that you can’t get everything you want.

The prime minister story line has not aged well. Basically, a woman gets fired because her boss has the hots for her and gets jealous when someone else pays attention to her, but it’s all okay because he learns that she was actually being sexually harassed. In the #MeToo era, it’s hard to see that story as at all romantic.

It struck me on this viewing that the whole movie is very “male gaze,” which is odd for a movie whose primary audience is probably heavily female. Not only is there a lot of nudity or near-nudity (the male nudity is played more like a joke), but few of the women in the movie have any agency. They’re basically prizes to be won, with little consideration for what they actually feel. Since we don’t really get the woman’s point of view until the end, when we maybe learn she likes him, too, it’s all about what he wants. In the few story lines where the women have a perspective, they’re mostly at the mercy of the men in their lives.

But the parts that are good and charming are really good and charming. I may not like the rest of the bride storyline, but I do love the wedding scene. I think it’s a bit much that the Colin Firth character proposes to a woman he’s never actually had a conversation with, but I like their scenes, where they’re saying the same things without realizing it because of the language barrier, and the proposal scene, while illogical, makes me teary-eyed. Emma Thompson proves how much of an acting goddess she is in the scene when she’s expecting the gold necklace she found earlier and gets a CD instead and realizes her husband gave the gold necklace to someone else. I think the best story line is with the Liam Neeson character and his stepson. It’s even sadder now realizing that not many years after this movie, he really was widowed. Although it’s sort of about the boy’s love for the girl in his class he wants to win (yet another woman as prize), I think it’s really about them and their relationship with each other in the aftermath of their loss. Their scenes are so sweet. It’s also a fun storyline because it sets up so many inside jokes for Phineas and Ferb (the boy went on to be the voice of Ferb on the cartoon, and the girl was Vanessa). There was a sequel scene done for one of those fundraising telethons that really ties a neat bow on it.

I did get my cathartic cry the first time I saw the movie, and this time around, in spite of my ongoing mental critique, I will admit that it got very hard for me to see my knitting.

There have been a lot of imitators trying to do the same kind of thing with Christmas and with other holidays, but there really was something about this movie.

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