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Love…Actually

November 30, 2009

“General opinion studies make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. Seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or news-worthy, but it’s always there. Fathers and sons. Mothers and daughters. Husbands and wives. Boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the twin towers as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge, they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling that you’ll find that love actually …is all around.”

 

“Love Actually”(2003) opens with a collage of the faces of ordinary people at Heathrow airport, one of the busiest travel portals in the world, where people from all different backgrounds, ages, sexes, colors, collide. They run toward each other, hugging, kissing, greeting, uniting, accompanied by the quote above. The film’s message is clear: open your eyes, and see the love that is everywhere, undeniable.

This is an age old theme that has been prodded, molded, stretched out and pressed in, turned inside out and upside down and twisted and re-presented in a thousand different deliveries: how love endures. And with a title that blatantly showcases another such attempt, it’s easy to write the film off as a cheesy cliche of holiday flicks. However, Love Actually is so brazen and enthusiastic in the pursuit of its vision, so skillful and sincere in the delivery of its message, so comprehensive in the plotlines that it engages, and so perfect in its casting, that it actually….succeeds.

Love comes in all shapes and sizes, but its form does not dictate its outcome. The great thing about love is that it’s available to everyone, and it does not discriminate. Here, we are treated to a plethora of characters and stories, each threaded through and with one another.

There is the love between husband and wife, lasting through years and withstanding the test of time, now having settled into a stable routine of domestic bliss.

There is new love, between newlyweds who somehow in this crazy world found the one they want to spend the rest of their lives with, and bask in the joy of their union amongst their loved ones.

There is love that is lost, through illnesses that is unexplained and unfathomable, at a time that is all too untimely.

There is love that is broken, through lies and betrayal, with no warning signs and no good reasons.

There is unrequited love, the kind that is heartwretching and bittersweet, the kind that suffers at the trickery of untimely timings, the kind that you have to live with because, well, you love them too much to do otherwise.

There is love that is too heavy to bear, because you already carry so much on your shoulders, and your sense of loyalty to your responsibilities are too great to overcome, and there is simply not enough room for the new love that you long for.

There is love that defy all logics, love that cross oceans, the kind that only happens in movies.

There is love that defy reasons, the kind that does happen…even in movies, because at the end of the day, you are only two lonely souls looking for company.

Then there is love that is totally unexpected, the kind that comes out of the left field and just kicks you in the gut and leaves you breathless, the kind that you will learn a new language for, the kind that you will learn to play drums for, the kind that you will chase a girl through the airport, through security check, to the boarding gate for, the kind that will lift you out of death, out of grief, and into the future.

There is all of those loves, and more. Love Actually is a film about love, for those who believe in love. Or, even if you are a non-believer, it seeks to warm your cold, cynical spirit and will make a valiant effort to convince you. Some will no doubt point to how saccharine the stories are and how unrealistic the payoffs are, and in a sense, they may be right. But before you turn it down, turn the movie on. Because it is necessary. Because for every over-enthusiastic heartwarming cliche it may carry, there exists a real, genuine moment of humanity. This film is full of them, these little moments of real gems. These moments are particularly moving because of both the amazing cast of actors and the amazing soundtrack that director Richard Curtis has chosen, which ranges from pop to jazz, from voices young to old, and so delicately evokes the emotional color of each scene. One of my favorite moments is when Sarah, played by the infallible Laura Linney,  finally dances with Carl, a man that she has secretly loved from afar while working alongside him for years, at the annual Christmas party. They stand awkwardly in the midst of the dance floor, then Norah Jones’ “Turn me on” breathes through the air, and they touch for the first time. I watched Linney’s face as he held her, and I held my breath just for a second. How that scene eventually played out is one of the saddest moments in the film, even though putting myself in her shoes, I probably would have done the exact same thing.

What is love but hope? No love is perfect, but we long for it anyway because we can’t live without it. Many of the stories in this film is probably a little too nicely wrapped up for real life…but it is not ridiculous. It is not so far out of our imagination or so lamely construed, like most romantic comedies produced, that it is implausible. In fact, it is very plausible, and hopeful, and it celebrates love, instead of glorifying it. This is a movie worth seeing. And during the holiday season, when the TV is filled with incessant noises of re-runs and carols and sales, pop this on, let it play, and spend time with your loved ones. This is a movie that does not have a bad bone in its entirety, only love.

On the DVD bonus features, Richard Curtis said that he received his emotional education from Joni Mitchell…whose song “Both Side Now” echos hauntingly in one of the best scenes of the film, with the great Emma Thompson. The song speaks of what life is about and what love is about, first written by the singer in her 20s and re-recorded in her 50s, her voice now smoking with emotion and wisdom…a thousand cigarettes later. It said everything that the moment held, and all that could not be said, but can only be heard. Hear this:

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairytale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 30, 2009 3:16 PM

    I missed this movie when it first came out, but it’s always been in the back of my mind as a movie I should seek out. I’ve heard so many people (mostly women–okay, ALL WOMEN) say that they love this movie. Certainly, if I get a chance, I’ll seek it out this holiday season.

    Oh, and my review of Red Cliff is now up on my blog. :-)

  2. December 3, 2009 7:57 AM

    There is a similar film that came out a few years before this one that I actually like even better than Love Actually. It’s called Playing by Heart. Awesome cast (including Angelina Jolie and Ryan Phillippe before they were well known), interlocking stories, and all about love, some broken, some not. It is my “favorite movie no one has ever heard of.” Every time I see someone recommend Love Actually, I recommend Playing by Heart to them as well. (No affiliation with the film; just a mildly obsessed fan.) Hope you enjoy!

    Grace: Thanks for the rec. I will definitely check it out!

  3. June 22, 2010 11:44 AM

    ‘Many of the stories in this film is probably a little too nicely wrapped up for real life…but it is not ridiculous. In fact, it is very plausible, and hopeful, and it celebrates love, instead of glorifying it.’
    You got to the bone, especially with the opening. I saw the film oh-too-many times, and every time it’s the same -surprisingly warm, inspiring and hope-giving.
    Except, my favourite scene is when Mark, Keira Knightley’s husband’s best man, stands in front of her door on that cold night with those notes.
    I hold my breath every time on it.

    Grace: “Enough. That’s enough for now.”

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