Monday, November 17, 2008

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

Love Actually header

There are several actors I'll follow from film to film; I'll watch any of their movies just to see them work: Michael Caine, Buster Keaton, Audrey Hepburn, Gene Hackman, Helen Mirren, Humphrey Bogart, Bill Murray, Uma Thurman, Peter O'Toole. There's a handful of directors who will get my fuzzy bottom into a theater seat just to see what they're going to do with a film: Terry Gilliam, John Ford, Wes Anderson, Mira Nair, The Coen Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Chuck Jones. But there's very few writers who make a film a must-see for yours little stuffed truly, and no, one of them isn't Mr. George Lucas. Sorry, George.

But slap a "Written by Richard Curtis" credit on a screenplay and I'm there, oh boy, with my popcorn in hand and my eyes wide open, staring up at the screen. Curtis has written approximately one bajillion movies and TV shows that have pretty much delighted me from end to end: Blackadder, Mr. Bean, The Vicar of Dibley, The Tall Guy, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill(probably one of my top five movies of all time), the two Bridget Jones movies, The Girl in the Café. For these (some more than others...I'm lookin' at you, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) Richard Curtis is a screenwriter I'll follow to any movie he makes. More important to our social history, the man deserves...and will probably be given someday...a knighthood for his founding of the Comic Relief UK charity organization. But top in my personal Bully-charts for fluffy but heartwarming movies is his 2003 directorial debut Love Actually, an Altman-esque multi-charactered homage to love in all its forms from perfect to flawed in contemporary Britain. It's a movie I'll watch a few times every year, and especially at Christmastime, and not because it co-stars Keira Knightley. Well, okay, not solely because it co-stars Keira Knightley.

Love Actually begins in the weeks leading up to Christmas in London and follows the travails in love of several characters, whose lives, loves, and stories interweave in so many intricate ways that Curtis published a flowchart in his book of the film. Week by week as we draw closer to Christmas the plots progress and merge. Some will lead to wonderful happy-ending stuff, others to tears, and even a few to bittersweet "that's life" conclusions. Right now, it's a little more than five weeks before Christmas. So too, begins Love Actually, in the lead-up to five weeks (and each subsequent week) until Christmas.

So, thinks I, why not watch Love Actually in real time? Oh no, not pacing it out hour by hour, calculating which scene takes place at which time and day and clicking my little stopwatch to make sure I don't watch a second beyond my appointed time. No, Love Actually is neatly separated, by screen titles, into each week before Christmas, so in each week leading up to our Christmas I'm going to watch the bit of Love Actually that corresponds and tell you about it. (That's why I'm calling it "in (sorta) real time.")This is no serious film critique or history you're in for, and if that's what you're looking for—hoo boy, have you got the wrong blog. No, this is just a little stuffed bull lookin' at one of his favorite movies and talking a little bit about it, pointing out some of my favorite bits and celebrating the heart of a movie that, whether it makes you giggle or cry—and I bet it does both—will remind you that love is actually all around.


This week is a short bit and a good way to start off, getting us up to speed on both the movie and our (sorta) realtime viewing. Love Actually opens on a montage of people greeting their loved ones at the airport.


This is London's Heathrow Airport, we're informed by the voice-over narration of Hugh Grant, who tells us, as music builds under his words:


Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport.


General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere.


Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, 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 you'll find that love actually is all around.


As the title fades, the music builds, and it's grown into "Love Is All Around"—no, not the theme to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but that great pop classic made famous by The Troggs:

Synchronicity alert: "Love is All Around" was covered by Wet Wet Wet, whose version appears over the end titles of Curtis's Four Weddings and a Funeral. We fade to a recording studio, where past-his-prime pop star Billy Mack (the sublime Bill Nighy) is recording the tune, but this version's off to a false start.

As Billy sings "Love is all around," his manager Joe (described in the script as "unprepossessing, wooly, chubby, moist, in his forties"...gosh, sounds like my pal John!) interrupts the recording: Billy has sung the words wrong.


Start again with another take, Billy singing "I feel it in my fingers/I feel it in my toes/Love is all around..."


He's done it again, and scolds himself with a blue streak of swearing. Let's begin again:


"I feel it in my fingers
I feel it in my toes
Christmas is all around me...

Joe exalts in celebration: Billy's gotten it right at last.


We'll learn the backstory of this recording session a little later, but for the moment it has to take place before five weeks until Christmas, as by the next bit the record's already out and Billy's hawking it in the attempts to make it his big career comeback Christmas hit. But he's got no illusions that he's creating a classic, in his aside to Joe: "This is shit, isn't it?"


Joe: "Yup—solid gold shit, Maestro."


Next time: meet the cast, the Prime Minister changes his tie, and (sigh) Keira Knightley in a wedding dress. In the meantime, you may want to get your very own copy of Love Actually and follow along, bit by bit, as we watch Love Actually in (Sorta) Real Time. If you do, you know what to do: make with the clickety-click and get yerself a copy of the Christmas movie that makes Jingle All The Way look like an Arnold Schwartzenegger Christmas movie. We'll see you soon, five weeks until Christmas, for the next bit. And, as they say, so the feeling goes.


SallyP said...

Well, I've never actually seen all of "Love, Actually", which I probably should, because it has Alan Rickman in it, and I simply adore Alan Rickman.

Not so sure about Hugh Grant, though.

I DO wish that they'd bring back Blackadder however. I LOVED that show!

D W said...

I'm not afraid to admit that this is my #1 favorite holiday movie and somewhere in my list of top ten favorite anytime movies ("not solely because it costars Keira Knightly:)

Sea_of_Green said...

Oh, YES, I love this movie! :-) I actually dragged Mr. Sea to the theater to see it when it first came out. (I kidnapped him and didn't tell him where we were going or what we were going to do -- mwaaa, ha, ha, haaaa!) We both LOVED it, and now we watch it at least once a year, usually during the holidays.

Bill Nighy is my favorite. :-)

SUPERB choice, Bully! This is gonna be fun!

Bill D. said...

I'm gonna send the link for this to my wife, Bully. This is jointly one of our favorite movies, and one of her favorite new-ish Christmas traditions is watching this repeatedly throughout the season the same way others do with It's a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story.

Come to think of it, this has a bit in common with It's a Wonderful Life... neither is specifically a Christmas movie, but Christmas certainly provides a great backdrop for the situations and to draw all the characters together.

Michael May said...

Yay! What a cool idea! I've already got a copy, so I'm going to be following along too.

Matthew said...

I also secretly love this movie.

Randi said...

Possibly my favorite version of "Love is All Around"

Wet Wet Wet were inspired to do their cover after hearing this version. So it does all tie in.