What with the logistics of kids and babysitters, I tend not to see too many movies during their theatrical runs. (Well, except for kid movies. I see pretty much all of those, whether they deserve it or not.) Eight or nine months after everyone else has finished discussing the latest cool movie, I finally get around to seeing it on DVD, and suddenly find myself wanting to discuss it with my friends, friends who are already all talked out about whether Matrix Reloaded sucked or not (not, unless you’re willing to stipulate that the first one sucked, too), or whether Lost in Translation was an aimless piece of nothing (sorry, no) or a masterful mood piece (a-yup).
So it was something of an aberration that my wife and I saw Love, Actually in the theater a few weeks before it officially opened, at a sneak preview in Santa Barbara. The audience was chock-full of Hugh Grant/Emma Thompson/Colin Firth fans from the city’s British-expat community, which may have helped it receive an especially warm reception, but even without the supportive crowd, I’m pretty sure I would have liked the movie a lot. Anyway, I did like it a lot, and now that it’s out on DVD and I’ve seen it again, I like it even more.
I’m quite the sucker for romantic comedies. An argument can be made that Love, Actually isn’t really a romantic comedy, but is more of an extended highlight reel from six or seven of them, but the fact remains that Richard Curtis (the film’s writer and director) has a distinctive sort of output that was very much in evidence in his previous work (he wrote the screenplays for Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones’ Diary), and if you liked his work there (which I mostly did) you’re probably going to like it here.
Not so, however, for Chris Orr, a writer for The New Republic. In a new review timed for the DVD release he pretty much pans everything about Love, Actually: Crap, actually. While I admit that his review’s title is kind of cute, he’s just completely, tragically wrong about the movie. It is a great film, a beautiful film, a hopeful, uplifting film. That a movie with nine (or so) separate storylines is not a mess is a tribute to Curtis’s deft writing and to his effective use of the stunningly good actors in his cast. Improbable as it seems, Curtis has taken the stuff of several light, frilly comedies, stripped it down and mashed it together, and delivered not only laughs, but a deeper movie that is actually about something.
Okay; I admit there are comic bits that aren’t going to work for everyone. For my taste, there were too many fat jokes, and the storyline about the loveless Colin (Kris Marshall), who goes to America to become a sex god and succeeds beyond any reasonable expectation, was pretty silly. (Though I liked it better on subsequent viewings.)
But those are minor quibbles, given the things the movie does right. The most unexpectedly powerful moment for me comes when Thomas Sangstrom, playing the 11-year-old stepson of Liam Neeson’s character, steps into Neeson’s arms to be hoisted and turned in the air, his arms spread wide in a moment of exultation that is pure, heartfelt, and thoroughly moving.
I don’t think I was particularly prone to crying at movies when I was younger, but since becoming a parent I’ve noticed a definite tendency toward emotional waterworks, especially in tear-jerking scenes involving children. I cried when I saw that scene in the theater, and cried again when I watched it on DVD, and again when I watched the DVD the second time to listen to the audio commentary. It’s powerful stuff, and it’s powerful because Richard Curtis and his cast and crew were willing to risk making a movie that talks honestly and openly about the most vulnerable of human emotions.
It’s easy to cut down a film that is sincere and hopeful about love. It’s easy to be cynical and snarky. Easy, but wrong.
This is a great movie. If you haven’t seen it, give it a try. If you have seen it, see it again. Go ahead and mock me in the comments for being a silly girly-man; I don’t care. I love this movie.