This is out of the ordinary for this blog (though not entirely unexpected from me), but as I am constantly being urged to give Love, Actually a chance – by someone who should know better – I went and bought the damn film on DVD. This, as you can well imagine, drew a considerable amount of raised eyebrows. I probably buy too many films there, because at the checkout no less than three people asked me if I knew it was neither a horror film nor a weird French film. Yes. I know exactly what it is. It’s a comedy. And yes, in case you were thinking that I was merely going to state the fact that I had watched it, I AM going to review it.
Here’s a little bit of free advice: You have only yourselves to blame if you tell me watch a film I have no intention of watching. Posts such as these are likely to be the outcome…
There’s probably cause for concern when a comedy opens at an airport. Films which have early scenes set in airports tend to have Very Bad Things happen to the characters – Airport, Die Hard 2, The Terminal (an aptly named film if ever there was one), Snakes On A Plane – but I know, even as the credits flash across the bottom of the screen, that I am in for the kind of torture even Prometheus would balk at suffering. The first line of the film (via narration) sets my mood for the next half hour:
“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow airport.
Already I’m wondering what kind of sick bastard would invoke airports in an attempt to induce heartwarming feelings in the audience – and it’s raising my spirits to think that, at some point in the film, Hugh Grant might deliver something as legendary as “It rubs the lotion on its’ skin” to cement the initial impression of his character. If that wasn’t enough, we get “treated” to a reminder of 9/11. Ordinarily I wouldn’t be so preoccupied with the opening narration of a film – truth be told, if I come across such things I tend to fast forward until there is less telling and more showing – but this fascinates me. I immediately Google film reviews of Love Actually to see what the popular opinion seems to be, and everyone else has apparently managed to block this out.
As a counterpoint to Hugh’s divine opening narration, I have to point out that airports make me feel nauseous. I have the nagging suspicion that this feeling will remain for the duration of the film…
The film begins properly, with Rab C. Nesbit taking the piss out of Rufus Scrimgeour’s singing abilities, and the outlook for an interesting viewing experience raises somewhat. My fidgeting ceases when the deathly line “This is shit, isn’t it?” is uttered, and I can’t help but think that Richard Curtis included it for the sole purpose of acknowledging the quality of the script. I agree wholeheartedly with the rather meta joke. Then… Well, things get very, very strange. Emma Thompson reveals to the audience that Liam Neeson’s wife has just died, in what must go down in history as the single worst telephone conversation ever. The only way she could have made it worse would have been to suggest he go on a skiing vacation to Quebec to take his mind off things.
And we get treated to clips, all of them having zero sense of context for the viewer, though the sight of a teenage boy wearing a wedding dress does manage to make me smile. British films… So quick to resort to cross-dressing as comedy. Matters don’t improve with Hugh Grant’s first appearance on-screen, in which his perverse lust for airports is explained – he’s the Prime Minister. Which explains so very much. Better yet, we have a glimpse into the reason Martine McCutcheon’s Hollywood career crashed, burned, and got swallowed by a black hole. She is neither funny nor interesting as a “new girl” in No. 10’s household staff, and it takes me all my strength to resist skipping to the next chapter. As it happens, the scene immediately following this train wreck moment is rather good.
The sight of The Operative marrying the teenage boy in drag is one of the funniest things I have seen in a long time. A musical number breaks out, and I hope desperately against hope that someone will liven things up… It’s maybe not as laugh-out-loud hilarious as the moment where a we get to see Arthur Dent dry-humping a topless blond, but it’s bloody close. Martin Freeman (not related to Gordon, sadly) must rank in the top ten most unlikely sex symbols on the planet, and having Ali G Indahouse on his résumé doesn’t help matters any. It’s a wonder the actress he is performing with can keep a straight face.
A scene which looks as if it was cut from Four Weddings And A Funeral manages to be even more draining than expected – and I nearly lapse into a coma before it cuts to the aftermath of the wedding. Unfortunately Richard Curtis’ directorial style is that of an eight year old boy with ADD, and we cut to yet another scene before the expected hi-jinks can occur – we never get to see relatives of the happy couple dancing on tables, any drunken fighting, or the slutty bridesmaid (there’s always one) disappearing with the priest. I almost throw the DVD remote control across the room. The sight of Alan Rickman eases my annoyance immediately, and – in the space of a few lines of dialogue – raises the bar for the quality of acting so high that I am amazed by what comes next.
Bill. Fucking. Nighy. Even in films like this, where his talents aren’t exactly stretched, he still manages to steal every single scene he is in. On the scale of cool he lurks just below Samuel L. Jackson, such is his awesomeness. He’s so brilliant that he doesn’t even need lines – with a glance, he can say more than other actors manage with a ream of dialogue.
I’ve said before how much I like watching him, but he really shows why he’s bulletproof in the radio interview scene. He may be gesticulating wildly and hamming it up, yet he’s more restrained than the twitching, rabid possibly-serial-killer-biscuit-fetishist PM as played by Hugh Grant. In the midst of a meeting of the cabinet, he can’t help imagining the things he would do to Martine McCutcheon – and as long as she is prevented from releasing another album, I’m with him all the way. I almost feel sorry for her, then I remember Perfect Moment…
“It rubs the lotion on its’ skin.”
It feels like the DVD is stuck on random chapter select, as it skips back to Martin Freeman and a topless Joanna Page. Not that I’m complaining. The scenes featuring the disrobed miss Page seem to be aiming at a slightly different crowd than the rest of the movie, and it occurs to me that someone more familiar with the sight of naked flesh – Barry Sonnenfeld, perhaps – might have made more of possible plot developments which hanging around half-naked could give the film. At least it’s a nice long scene of her tople- Hey, what the hell? I don’t want to see Liam Neeson moping around… How much longer does this film have to go anyway? It feels as if it has been running forever, and there is no end in sight to the film. I would willingly swap places with Prometheus if it meant I didn’t have to sit through any more of the film.
When I check the OSD, I see that it has only been running for half an hour.
The despair is about to be magnified with yet more scenes between the psychopath PM and his next victim. I think there’s something really familiar about his performance, but I can’t quite put my finger on it…
As if everything that preceded this point wasn’t enough to induce mild brain damage, I am faced with the sight of Ant and Dec. Suicide becomes more appealing with every passing moment of their charmless, inane presence. If it wasn’t for Bill Nighy’s excellent line at the end of the scene, I would have opened up my veins by now. I hit half-watching the screen, hoping that there will be something even mildly amusing to see me through til the next Nighy scene, then the film shifts gears unexpectedly on me. Hank Grotowski turns up as the US president (though it seems he has dumped Leticia in the interim), and Hugh gives him a string of blatant lies – claiming that he’s never been able to tie a girl down, we get a glimpse into the way he has been able to carry out his murderous fantasies in the face of public scrutiny. This is a PM with balls bigger than most kaiju.
The press conference which escalates the mad PM’s weirdness nearly succeeds in revealing just how far around the bend he has gone, but he stops short of drooling and masturbating in front of the cameras, thus giving him a little more time to lure his assistant away to her demise unchecked. I nearly vomit when he has some sort of a fit, shaking and shuddering with wild-eyed mayhem in his eyes.
It’s only when the manuscript flies into the lake that I realize I am watching a strange alternate-history fantasy rather than a film set in the real world. Who types out a manuscript on a typewriter anyway? Have you ever tried to write more than a few dozen pages on a typewriter? I have, and I can guarantee you that it is it is the most agonizing thing ever. Really. It’s right up there with listening to Martine McCutcheon sing. Worryingly, the message the film seems to be making – with at least three of the stories thus far – is that it is not only acceptable to sleep with the people you employ, it is expected. This is emphasized repeatedly, so it seems that it is more than a coincidental theme running across the stories.
The film gets even stranger (unbelievably, given how fucked up it is so far) when the groom from the earlier wedding scene admits his love for the boy, who has come in search of the wedding video. The theme tune to Roswell gives the game away – they’re aliens. They’re all aliens. It explains so, so much.
I especially like the way the PM gets to deliver his serial killer line – “Redistribute her.” Yeah, and why don’t you do it yourself, you lazy bastard? Having gone this far into the realms of madness, is he getting squeamish about having more blood on his hands? It’s doubtful. There are so many disturbing aspects to his character that it’s most likely an attempt to groom a partner for his murderous rampages. Having sat through the better part of an hour, I turn the audio off and start making up my own dialogue for the characters, which mostly consists of them bitching about being stuck in this godawful film.
“Is it over yet?”
“Hell no. I haven’t injected heroin into my eyeball yet.”
“Better hurry up. Martine might start singing any moment now.”
I play a hand of solitaire, and when I glance at the screen I see Alan Rickman is shopping. This isn’t a British street he is on, because there are no homeless people on the street, nor drunken people staggering from pubs. Hell, there aren’t even any hoodies stalking the streets. It looks like a street, but knowing the film is set in a parallel universe where psychotics don’t steal people’s mobile ‘phones when they’re talking on them explains some of the incongruities in the shot. Alan Rickman’s luck doesn’t hold out, because he soon finds himself being served in a shop by Mr. Bean, who only narrowly avoids tying his finger to a present he is wrapping.
The eighty minute mark manages to up the ante for the fantasy argument, with a dorky loser striking the jackpot with three women, though we have no run-on scene to indicate if this is actually the case or if it is the set-up for something else. I like to imagine that it is Americans getting their revenge for the events of the Hostel movies, and the poor bastard is soon going to find himself being dismembered in a dank warehouse somewhere. Really, he only has himself to blame for not checking if they had bulldog tattoos or not.
I suddenly realize I’ve been watching this for an hour and a half, and panic. Films shouldn’t feel this long. The repeated use of the word “actually” in the script is, actually, really fucking annoying. Actually. On the basis of this one film, I’m ready to actually skip any future films actually written or actually directed by Richard Curtis. When the groom-guy steals the sign-as-speech schtick from Bob Dylan, I decide that the boy is actually kinda good-looking, and the fact so many men fancy him begins to make sense somewhat. It’s still a far-fetched idea he could have so many admirers, but as this is a fantasy film I’ll let the matter slip.
There’s a special kind of pain when Hugh channels Dwight from Sin City, and the ending… Gathering all the characters in one room and hoping that it qualifies as a resolution to the storylines is ridiculous. There is a few strands left – neverending, awful stories which keep dragging on. The film, I am certain, is merely torturing me at this point. When the kid breaks into a run past airport security I hope that the film will finally come full circle, and we’ll get a twist on the ending of Twelve Monkeys, but the precocious little bastard gets away with it. In this world, where serial killers don’t get made prime minister, he would have been shot in the head long before meeting up with his squeeze…
Past the two hour mark and I am exhausted. Trying to keep interested in these idiots for the sake of this post is the most exhausting thing I’ve done so far this year, and even the joyful sight of the end credits is not enough to make me crack a smile. Despite all that, Love Actually managed to be more entertaining than the American Pie series of films. True, a colonic with a rusty pipe cleaner is more entertaining than those films, but any comparison with reasonably good films is a waste of energy. It’s better than Bean, though not as funny as Hotel Paradiso, and even in a straight fight with Dumb And Dumber it wouldn’t come off well. I still can’t believe I shelled out eight quid for it, but at least this puts an end to people urging me to watch it.
I can’t write off the shopping trip to pick up the DVD as a complete waste of time, as I did pick up an Eleventh Doctor Sonic Screwdriver as well. It’s the small mercies which make the time spent watching the DVD worthwhile…