Monday, November 24, 2008

Love Actually in (Sorta) Real Time: Five Weeks to Christmas

Love Actually header
Love Actually
It's five weeks to Christmas, both here and in Love Actually. Carrying on directly from the prologue, the song "Christmas is All Around" plays in an orchestral version beneath the action of the beginning scenes of this part of the story, introducing us to the movie's extensive cast of characters. But first, some lovely scenes of London at Christmastime to put everyone in the holiday spirit:
Love Actually
Love Actually
Love Actually It was our best ever Christmas!


Well, okay, you got me there. That last London Christmas scene doesn't actually appear in Love Actually. I can dream, though, can't I?

Cut to a London house and Jamie (Colin Firth, practically a Richard Curtis Player) and his girlfriend (Sienna Guillory). Girlfriend is sick in bed and can't go with Jamie to the wedding he's off to, even though it's just around the corner. Jamie professes his undying, unending love to her, kisses her sick mouth (ick, watch it Colin!) and heads off to the wedding—which we're invited to as well, just be patient.
Love Actually


Meanwhile, Daniel (Liam Neeson), the weight of the world on his shoulders, talks on the phone...
Love Actually


...to his friend Karen (the inestimable Emma Thompson).
Love Actually


Daniel's wife has passed away recently. "Sorry," he tells her, "I literally don't have anyone else to talk to." It's a swift conversation—Karen has a family moment brewing and promises to call back—but it's full of character development without being a massing infodump. For all his elaboration and attention to detail, Richard Curtis brings his characters on stage with a minimum of fuss and introduction. We don't get a massive backstory, exposition, or, in many cases, even a character name: he only provides us with what's important through the dialogue and the acting. It's a sparse but effective economy that serves the movement of his plot well and also is vital to the audience's comprehension of the story and keeping the multiple of characters apart. All we need to know is introduced in economic dialogue: Daniel is mourning his wife's recent death and phones his very good friend Karen. We don't need to know Daniel's backstory—it's not important to the story that he's an architect (tho' pay close attention to his books and work in the background and you can suss that out yourself). It is important that his wife has left behind her son for Daniel to raise—but that won't be a vital point until later, and Curtis avoids shoveling too much information at us, especially right away. It makes Love Actually quite accessible for its large cast of characters and overlapping stories, and broadens the universal appeal and sympathy for each of them.

Karen's family emergency is a conversation with her daughter:
Love Actually


Cut to the bustling London offices of Fairtrade, a busy and modern charitable organization (Curtis describes it in his script as "a mixture between a charity and the Body Shop"). Enter the energetic Colin (Kris Marshall), the lunch deliveryman, who gleefully and outrageous flirts with the women in the office with subtle come-ons like "Beautiful muffin for a beautiful lady," and "Try my lovely nuts!"
Love Actually


Colin is most interested in a cool, beautiful brunette whom he greets with "Morning, my future wife!"
Love Actually


This is Mia (Heike Makatsch), and we'll find out more about her later on. (But keep yer eye on her, she's not to be trusted!) For the moment, however, she scowls and turns away from Colin, his flirty grin turning into crushed resignation...
Love Actually


...and as he turns away and leave, take note of...
Love Actually


...1) the poster of the two native women on the wall in the background—an image that ties into this lovely but deleted scene intended to appear towards the end of the movie. If you've only seen the movie in the theaters, you've never seen this bit:


Curtis writes, in the movie's scriptbook
And finally, something I wish I had been able to make work....The point, right near the end of the film, was to show that love is a factor everywhere in the world—even in the most extreme circumstances. But in the end, we were juggling so many balls at this point of the film, that we had to drop this one.

...Behind every film ever made is another film...deleted.
Sniff. Also note 2)...thought I'd forgot about number 2, didn't you? 2) the empty desk in front of the poster (the woman in blue is leaning over to steal a pencil from the absent owner of the desk). The desk belongs to Sarah (Laura Linney), who we'll meet in a wee bit. Why isn't she at work today? She's at a wedding, and in a moment, we will be too, after a brief interlude and introduction to Jack (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page)...
Love Actually


...who, despite all appearances, are not failed applicants for the 2012 London Olympics leapfrog team, but body doubles for a love scene in a historical romance film. The quickest of introductions, and is there a spark there?
Love Actually


We'll have to find out later, because now we're off to the wedding, where best man Mark (Andrew Lincoln) and nervous bridegroom Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) await the arrival of the blushing bride with a bit of small talk of their own:
Love Actually


Through all of what has gone before the orchestral version of "Christmas is All Around" has still been playing, and it rises to a crescendo as the crowd stands up: the bride has arrived. Peter turns to see his soon-to-be-wife; Mark reaches for a video camera to capture the event for posterity.
Love Actually


Bride Julia, radiant and smiling, arrives in a blaze of sunlight through the church door. Be still my little satin stuffed heart, it's Keira Knightley:
Love Actually


The scene switches swiftly to another arrival: the motorcade of Britain's new Prime Minister pulls up before Number Ten Downing Street and David the PM emerges, only to turn out to be Hugh Grant. Hey, I woulda voted for him! (I forgive you for Music & Lyrics, Hugh!)
Love Actually


David never gets a surname in the movie—it's Curtis's economy working again; he doesn't need to give his story's PM a last name. All we need to know is that he's 1) David 2) Prime Minister, and, as Curtis cleverly and economically slips into the dialogue, he's unmarried. "Should be a lot easier with me than with the last lot," he tells the staff of Number 10, "No nappies, no teenagers, no scary wife."
Love Actually


David is charming and easy-going with a good sense of humor, and he's clearly amused by and at the same time delighted with Downing Street employee Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), the new girl who's trying to keep her composure in front of her new all-powerful boss but keeps on putting her heel right in her mouth: "Hello, David—I mean 'sir.' Shit, I can't believe I just said that—and now I've gone and said 'shit.' Twice."
Love Actually


How entranced is David by Natalie? So entranced that the space-time continuum around him rips open and changes the pattern on his necktie:
Love Actually


In truth, in between the two scenes Hugh Grant retired to his trailer, and put the wrong tie on (a pattern of tiny dots instead of large dots) when it was time to go back to the set.

The Prime Minister has better things to worry about than wormholes and disappearing neckwear, however—as he steps into his office his expression is confused and a bit alarmed. Like Jack and Judy, there's been more than a bit of a romantic spark at first sight between David and Natalie. But for the Prime Minister, that's more than a bit inconvenient.
Love Actually


Back to the wedding, and not a second too soon, because golly gumbucks, Keira Knightley in a beautiful wedding gown. The next two hours of the movie could consist of her spinning around in place and I'd gladly queue up to watch it four or five more times on opening night.
Love Actually


Present at the wedding: Jamie (as we saw before) and Sarah (we're seeing her for the first time here).
Love Actually


Now married, Peter and Julia turn to walk down the aisle, and are stopped and surprised by the appearance of a chorus on the balcony of the church. A singer—Peter's brother? We don't know, and honestly, it doesn't matter—begins a gorgeous rendition of the Beatles's "All You Need is Love."
Love Actually


The chorus and singer are joined by the string quartet...
Love Actually


...horn players popping up from the audience to add to the music...
Love Actually


...accompanied by flutes...
Love Actually


Mark continues to film the singers and players...
Love Actually


...and the delighted expressions of Peter and Juliet as trombone players suddenly pull their instruments out from under the church pews. It's subtle, but pay close attention to exactly where Mark's aiming his camera. So where's the importance of that tiny detail? Later, dear watchers, later.
Love Actually


What, no saxophones?
Love Actually


Ah, there they are. A moment of triumph as Mark and the minister exchange high fives...
Love Actually


Why, there's even an electric guitarist in the pulpit. These reformed services certainly are more fun than in the old days!
Love Actually


It's a marvelous joyous scene, and wish you could see it...hey, wait a minute. You can!


I love this moment of the film. There's a lot of scenes from Love Actually available as snippets on YouTube, but I'm not gonna post 'em all—you deserve to treat yourself to the full film in context and in order, and on a screen bigger than your average Post-It Note™. But I am gonna show you some of my favorite scenes that exist online because words don't always do justice to 'em. Many of these are musical moments. Richard Curtis's films—most notably Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones's Diary and Love Actually—often rely on the perfect pop, soul, or rock song to tell the story and set the mood. Picture Reneé Zellweger miming along to "All By Myself" in the opening of Bridget Jones's Diary or Hugh Grant wandering through Notting Hill Market in one uncut scene as the seasons change around him from summer to winter and "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" laments his loss (one of my favorite scenes in any movie, by the way).

Curtis, born in 1956, grew up in the age of pop and rock records and clearly relishes using them in his films, both as background and, especially in Love Actually's Billy Mack storyline, as a major part of the plot. In the script book of Love Actually a series of rapidfire interviews with the cast include the questions "What is your favourite romantic song?" and "What is your favourite Christmas song?" Keira Knightley's got great taste in romantic songs ("My Baby Just Cares for Me" by Nina Simone) but Colin Firth and Emma Thompson win the Bully appreciate award for their one-two punch of Christmas songs: "Fairy Tale of New York" by The Pogues and "Merry Christmas Everyone" by Slade, respectively. Last week I hint-hint-hinted that it wouldn't be a bad idea for you to pick up the DVD of Love Actually, so let's take a brief commercial break for my recommendation that the film's soundtrack CD might delight you as well. There's a lot of gems from the movie on this: I'm especially fond of Dido's "Here with Me" and Joni Mitchell's contemporary version of "Both Sides Now," both of which accompany deeply moving moments in the motion picture. There's also, of course, Billy Mack's full "Christmas is All Around" (now one of my favorite Christmas songs) and, from much later in the movie, Olivia Olson's energetic cover of "All I Want For Christmas Is You." There is, as on any compliation soundtrack CD, bound to be disappointments: the Lynden David Hall "All You Need is Love" is not the wonderful gradual orchestral version from the film that you've just watched, and I loved the score by Craig Armstrong so much I wanted more than just the one orchestral piece "Glasgow Love Theme" on the CD. (I would imagine that the Armstrong score may just possibly be available through online file-sharing sites. Not that I would know anything about that. Nudge nudge, wink wink.) Never mind. It's still a great listen-to, and infamous in the Bully household as the disc that made me enjoy a Kelly Clarkson song: "The Trouble With Love."

Click away and buy yourself that CD quickly, tho', coz we're back on the couch with popcorn bowl in our lap and back to the movie. Between the wedding ceremony and the reception, Jamie pops back round to his flat (remember, the dialogue has told us it's "just around the corner") and to his surprise, finds his brother there.
Love Actually


Named in the script as "Jamie's Bad Brother" (Dan Fredenburgh), JBB spins a nervous excuse of dropping by to borrow some CDs, a logical enough explanation until Jamie's Bad Girlfriend calls from the bedroom, in spicy language that makes yours little stuffed truly blush black and white and red all over, that she wants the brother back with her in bed before Jamie gets home. Awkward!
Love Actually


Oi, Colin! Stay away from my Peter's Julia! She's a married woman now! Colin is now at the wedding reception, serving hors d'oevres and flirting with the women...
Love Actually


...and not having tremendous success with either. Striking up a conversation with a pretty guest, Colin jokes how awful the food is ("Looks like a dead baby's finger! Oooh, tastes like it too." Turns out she's the caterer. Once again...awkward!
Love Actually


Colin's sussed out his situation, though. In a kitchen conversation with his friend Tony (Abdul Salis), Colin has hit upon the idea that he must go to America, where the girls are less stuck up and they'll all be attracted to his cute British accent. "I am Colin, God of Sex!" he declares. "I'm just on the wrong continent, that's all!"
Love Actually


While Jack and Judy continue small talk preparing for some lighting tests of their nude stand-in scenes...
Love Actually


...we move to a much more serious venue, the afternoon funeral of Daniel's wife Jo.
Love Actually


The church is filled with the mourners, from Jo's parents to her son Sam (Thomas Sangster).
Love Actually


FerbYes, I'm sure y'all know that was Sangster in the Doctor Who episodes where the Doctor became human and who was almost-gonna-play Tintin in the live-action Hergé movie...but didja know that he's related (second cousin) to Hugh Grant? And that he also plays the voice of Ferb in the Disney cartoon series Phineas and Ferb? Betcha didn't! Still, funeral. Sad. Sniffle. Karen's there, of course...
Love Actually


Daniel helps to carry Jo's coffin from the church, his wedding ring center of the frame...
Love Actually


...followed immediately by a return to the wedding reception, Julia and Peter dancing, her wedding ring center of the frame, in a subtle but lovely little bit of thematic continuity.
Love Actually


From the sidelines, Mark, always the best man, never the bridegoom, continues his videotaping of the event, always following Peter and Julia closely, a fact which hasn't escaped the eagle eye of Sarah.
Love Actually


"Do you love him" Sarah asks bluntly.
MARK: Who? What?
SARAH: I just thought I'd ask the blunt question, in case it was the right one and you needed someone to talk to about it and no one had ever asked you so you've never been able to talk about it even though you might have wanted to...
MARK: No, no, no is the answer. No. Absolutely not.
SARAH: So that's a 'no' then?
Love Actually


Flash forward: it's the next day (or at least a further day in the same week). Everything we've seen in this "Five Weeks To Christmas" segment so far has happened in one day: the day of Peter and Julia's wedding and Jo's funeral. It's also a day on which we also saw the Fairtrade offices bustling, so it was a work day. Either Peter and Julia got married on a weekday in the morning or afternoon (not unheard of, but that's an amazingly good turnout for a weekday) or Fairtrade stays open on Saturdays. A mystery that we won't solve: it's not important to the film. All that is important is that the scene shifts from night (the wedding reception) to day in London with an establishing shot of the Millennium Bridge.
Love Actually


Despite its joke potential (it was infamously unsteady upon first opening), the Millennium Bridge is one of my favorite new bits of architecture, along with the pinecone-shaped Swiss Re building, in contemporary London. Richard Curtis seems to like it as well: it's also featured it in Bridget Jones's Diary, displaying a clear geography of Bridget's commute on foot from home to work, from Southwark to London over the bridge. It's got a wonderful view direct to St. Paul's Cathedral on the north bank and the Tate Modern on the South Bank, and it's a perfectly picturesque place for anyone...even a little stuffed bull...to pause and reflect on the lovely wonders of London town.
A moment of quiet reflection on the Millennium Bridge


Okay, maybe we're not certain what day in the fifth week until Christmas the previous scenes have taken place, but here's a bigger mystery: why, in the following scene where Mia speaks to her boss Harry (the always-great Alan Rickman) is she wearing the same outfit she wore in the previous scene?
Love Actually


My attempt at a Love Actually No-Prize: it can't be the day after the wedding. It could be three or four days later. Mia's too sleek and fashionable to wear the same outfit within a couple days. (Even within the same week is pushing it, but there's some other possible reasons that we won't get to until much later in the film.)

For the first time in the film we discover (even tho' I've given you a hint) that Sarah works here. She steps into Harry's office, Harry instructs her to switch off her mobile phone (subtle plot alert!) and has a supportive talk about her crush on co-worker Karl.
Love Actually


Sarah's surprised, of course: as her talk with Mark at the wedding reception shows, she's got a keen eye for unrequited love, but is blind to the fact that anyone else might see it in her. Harry urges her to act on her impulses: "Invite him out for a drink, then after twenty minutes casually drop into the conversation the fact that you'd like to marry him and have lots of sex and babies....Think about it, for all our sakes. It's Christmas." But she can't even meet his eye when Karl walks into the office.
Love Actually


Outside Harry's door, her mobile starts to ring immediately, and she asks Mia to turn down the blaring pop music on the radio. "What is that?"
Love Actually


And we've come full circle: it's a radio DJ playing (and making fun of) Billy Mack's now-released single, "Christmas Is All Around," unaware that Billy's up next in the schedule to be interviewed over the radio. (EDIT: Boisterous Bully booster Gregory reminds me of what I forgot to mention: the DJ is played by Marcus Brigstocke, one of the co-hosts of BBC Radio 4's comedy radio programme The Now Show, one of my fave weekly looks at the news. Thanks, Gregory!)
Love Actually


BILLY: Ask me anything you like. I'll tell you the truth.
DISC JOCKEY: Best shag you ever had?
BILLY: Britney Spears. No, only kidding. She was rubbish.

A quick cut to Billy's manager Joe:
Love Actually


Billy's his usual blunt and sardonic self. "Wouldn't it be great if Number One this Christmas wasn't some smug teenager but an old ex-heroin addict searching for a come-=back at any price? All those popsters, they'll be stretched out naked with a cute bird balancing on their balls and I'll be stuck in some dingy flat with my manager, the ugliest man in the world."
Love Actually


"After this, the news," announced the DJ. "Is the new Prime Minister in trouble already?"
Love Actually


Is he? Is he under attack from the tie gremlins of the London Underground, seeking to warp reality by swapping his neckwear when nobody's looking? Or are David's problems more political...or romantic? Think about it, but no fair watching ahead, and let's meet back here next week for Four Weeks to Christmas. Until then, don't cheat with your brother's girlfriend, don't chew on any babies' fingers, and keep your rotten paws off Keira Knightley! Oh, what the heck, one more time:
Love Actually



7 comments:

McGone said...

Quite possibly the greatest alt text in the history of alt text. A fine job, sir, as always.

Gregory said...

You didn't mention that the DJ interviewing Billy Mack is played by Marcus Brigstocke of The Now Show fame

Seangreyson said...

I've watched this movie many, many times, I'm not ashamed. Really...

But more seriously one connection within the movie that I've never been 100% certain of: I think that at least the singer at the wedding may have been one of the guys in Blue, which is the band that Billy Mack is trying to beat out for #1 christmas song.

If it is true, then it provides a more direct link for Billy Mack to the rest of the characters (who are all connected otherwise).

It's always bugged me that his is the only story that doesn't tie into the others.

SallyP said...

You can keep Kiera Knightly, you adorable little stuffed bull. Just give me Alan Rickman or Colin Firth, who will ALWAYS be Mr. Darcy.

Gosh, they're just SO dreamy.

jrosey77 said...

Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) is foxier than Keira. And she can sing! I wish she had sung to David in the film. Do you think there'll be a Love Actually 2?

Matthew said...

@ Seangreyson - according to IMDB, the singer is actually Lynden David Hall, who sadly passed away in 2006 from Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Mike Lynch said...

I do not like this movie, but I really liked your comments and insight and research, Bully! I posted a link to your blog from my blog!