It's two weeks to Christmas...
...and Richard Curtis is frantically typing up the script to stay on schedule. No, no, that's actually Jamie, who (we're allowed to fill in the blanks from action and dialogue) is a mystery/thriller writer, working on his next book while at the cottage in France, while Aurelia tidies up behind him. Their communication problem a week later is no closer to be solvedhe still has no idea what she's saying, and vice versa. Aurelia's words are translated in subtitles for us, but to Jamie, they might as well be Greek. Instead of Portuguese, which is what they are.
Jamie's working outside on the veranda one day when Aurelia accidentally lifts up a coffee cup holding down a sheaf of finished pages and voila (or, as Aurelia might exclaim, maldição!):
The pages take off into the breeze across the back field, heading for the pond behind the house, with Aurelia in hot pursuit.
She pauses at the pier, undresses quickly down to her undies...golly, should a little stuffed bull be watching this part?
...and dives in, with the sort of form that would, whatever her finish at Eurovision, might probably win her a gold medal at the Olympics.
Jamie's certainly simultaneously entranced and surprised, in that loveable gormless-gawking Colin Firth kinda-way.
"She'll think I'm a total spaz if I don't go in too..." he worries aloud, and gracefully adds to the athletic diving competition of the day:
It's a bit of a cliché but a nice shorthand of their intense connection despite their brief time together that Aurelia and Jamie, despite speaking two different tongues, are pretty much talkin' the same language all along anyway. "It's not worth it," he calls to her, as they both tread freezing water (in reality the pond's only eighteen inches deep, and Firth and Moniz are both kneeling down in the cold muck). "It isn't bloody Shakespeare!"
At the same time Aurelia is declaring:
"You know, there better not be eels in here! I can't stand eels!" hollers Jamie.
The scene's done for laughs and to get to see Ms. Moniz in her underwear, and I for one say more power to it. But the attraction is deeper, the non-understood conversation even more in sync, as they dry off inside.
JAMIE: Thank you. Thank you so much. I know, I'll name one of the characters after you. AURELIA: Maybe you could name one of the characters after me. Or give me fifty per cent of the profits.
JAMIE: Or I could give you five per cent of the profits.
Through a combination of short words and mime, they make some breakthroughs in communication; Aurelia mimes driving..."Later, you'll drive me home?"
Jamie gazes at her and says, "It's my favorite time of day, driving you."
When we saw their previous car ride, they looked straight ahead at the road, but now their glances make the connection. She looks at him while he is looking away...
...he looks at her while she is looking away...
...and with a start, they catch the other looking and quickly turn away. Hey, Jamie! Watch the road! (You'll wipe out at Gambon if you're not careful!)
Meanwhile, back in London, Mark's eating his breakfast cereal. That's two screen appearances of breakfast cereal in this movie, giving it the #3 position of most cereal appearances in a 2003 motion picture, just behind #2's bang-on appearance of Ka-Boom in Kill Bill Vol. 1 and the all-time cereal movie appearance champ, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. (Really, what was the point of all those "Saruman-Os" we saw Gandalf keep eating?)
Mark, proving his a multitasker in a busy, hectic twenty-first century world, is also watching breakfast telly, and look who's going to be interviewed coming up next on the showit's Christmas Number One contender Billy Mack! Don't blink or you'll miss a quick teaser of his music video, but don't fret, Mack-Maniacs: you'll get a better look at it later.
How can the day get any better than this? Well, this way...
Keira Knightley shows up...
...and she's got banoffee pie.In the words of Dave and Annie, there must be an angel (playing with my heart). Mark's not overexcited to see Juliet, though...
What the Sam scratch is wrong with you, Mark? Sheesh. Juliet's popped by bearing sweeties as a bribe to get Mark to dig up the wedding video, which he claims he's lost or wiped over, probably with The West Wing. Hmmm, I'm as big a little stuffed Martin Sheen fan as anybody, but that's just plain ridiculous...as Juliet herself finds by pulling a video labeled "Peter & Julia's Wedding" off the shelf.
As Mark cringes in the background, Juliet settles down to watch the tape, cooing delightedly at what a wonderful job he has done of capturing her wedding day...
...which is, scene after scene...
...shot after shot...
...nothing but close-ups of Juliet.
The penny drops; the truth begins to dawn at last on Juliet.
"But you never talk to me...you always talk to Peter," she protests to an embarrassed Mark. "You don't like me."
Mark hems, adds a bit of haw, and starts to turn to go out, but manages to give as much of an explanation as he can: "It's a self-preservation thing, you see."
He turns and leaves her behind...pauses at the door to turn back, turns again, back and forth...three times he starts to go back in, three times he stops himself; he wants to go back; he can't.
As Dido's "Here With Me" plays on the soundtrack, Mark buries his face in his hands, roars at the sky, and purposefully walks away.
And I won't go
I won't sleep
I can't breathe
Until you're resting here with me
Here's the scene in motion: fluid, vibrant, and ever-so-painful.
Geez, Mark! So you're in love with Keira Knightley...but don't scare the shoppers!
(Seriously, dude. I hear ya. I hear ya.)
One bloke who knows a thing or two about unrequited love, but who can at least keep his cool to not frighten Londoners, is our mate David the Prime Minister, who's mooning (not to be confused with mooing, or indeed that thing you do with your butt...sorry Hugh Grant fans, it's not that kinda film) over Natalie. Too aware of how it was his attraction to her that caused him to speak out against the President, David asks his chief of staff Annie to reassign Natalie to another department. She does so...instantly, almost joyfully, with a verbal jab at Natalie's weight, which takes David aback for a moment. He's not happy with his decision. Neither are we. Boo, Hugh! Boo!
Unrequited Love Actually Theater continues unabated...gosh, isn't this all so cheery and joyful? (sniff) ...as we return to Sam and Daniel. Sam's got some bad news: Joanna's going back to America. "Your girl is American?" asks Daniel? "Yes. She's American and she's not my girl and she's going back to America and that's the end of my life as I know it."
Everybody knows that Liam Neeson always has the answer. "We need Kate and we need Leo and we need them now!" Together stepdad and stepson watch Titanic and act out the scene with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio on the bow of the boat, conveniently leaving out the shark attack scene.
But I can dig this scene. When I can't sleep and I'm sad I go over to John and wake him up and tell him I'm in a blue mood and he always says "We need Cate and we need Bill and we need them now!" And then we go out to the living room and watch out favorite movie-set-on-a-boat until I feel a little better and then I can go back to bed.
Daniel tries to explain to Sam that in the end, there isn't just one person for each of us. But Sam retorts, sadly: "There was for Kate and Leo. There was for you. There is for me. She's the one." "Fair enough...and her name's Joanna?" "Yeah, I know. Same as Mum."
Back at Number Ten, Daniel's being brought his coffee..but it's not by Natalie, it's by a new woman. Look closelyshe's brought him regular biscuits, not the special chocolate ones Natalie used to bring him. You fool, Daniel! Chocolate biscuits! Really, I don't know what it is with these politicians...got to keep their priorities straight.
In France, Jamie's packed up the cottage and is heading back to Londoncontradicting his earlier assertion to his landlady that he was staying through Christmas, by the way. Continuity! He drives Aurelia back to town for the last time, where they still can't speak to one another in a common language...
So she gives him a kiss...
And walks away, not looking back, wiping away a tear. Please pay attention, Mark...she does not frighten the passers-by. That's the way you have your heart broken...with minimum effect on your outward community. Please make a note of it.
By now you've gone through three or four handkerchiefs and are ready to put your head in the oven with how relentlessly sad it is, and only two weeks before Christmas. Will there be no joy? Will there be no laughter? Will there be no Santa Claus?
Oh, there you go.
As we caught a glimpse of earlier, Billy Mack's got a music video to promote "Christmas Is All Around" and what a holiday-stravagnaza it is, too. Inspired by Robert Palmer's classic "Addicted to Love" and "Simply Irresistible" promo clips, video vixens prance around Billy in skimpy Santa suits and in their scanties. You can't say Billy doesn't know how to have a good time! (Wanna see the video? Click here, because embedding is disabled by request of Universal Music...the grinches.)
It's fun to see the gradual progression of the publicity machine for Billy's single: as dark a horse as he is for the Christmas Number One, "fat manager" Joe is getting a heck of a lot of promotion for his aging pop idol, from Radio Watford to Ant & Dec and later on, one of the biggest TV interview names in Britain. (No, sadly, not Graham Norton). In the meantime, Sam's watching the video with wide eyes through the front window of a music store. Note the Blue promo poster on the left...but never fear, Billy's got two posters in plain sight (the red ones just above Sam's head and to the right.) It's a Billy Mack juggernaut!
Sam's not captivated by the video's beauteous belles, tho'...well, at least not primarily. The sight of craggy oold Bill Nighy surrounded by babealicious back-ups has given him a plan so clever, you could staple He rushes home to tell Daniel his (clever) plan:
But in the course of true love, that never stopped anyone. (I'm still working on my banjo lessons!) Next thing we hear is the incessant and repetitive pounding...bang, bang, bang, bang of a drum set from behind Sam's door...
It's Christmas time in London! You can tell because the lights are up and burning away merrily on the streets...
...and Sarah's setting up a little tree on her desk.
You know what that means...time to party! The Fairtrade office party that Mia set up, that is, at the Nile Street Gallery.
The whole office is there. Look! There's Karl by the punch. And, watching him longingly from the right, Sara.
Sarah's wistful glances are not missed by Karen, who's there with Harry. But Karen steps away long enough for...
...vroom, vroom, here she comes: Cue up Hall and Oates's "Maneater"...it's Devil Girl Mia, decked out in party red. Please dear readers, for the comfort of everyone...resist making the obvious "Hey, she's horny!" joke.
That said, she is...coaxing Harry out onto the floor for a slow dance, and whispering seductions in Harry's ear. "It's all for you...sir."
Now this certainly does not go unnoticed by Karen. As we all know, Emma Thompson has binocular vision, and rack-focuses intensely on Harry and his secretary, accompanied by that Jaime Sommers bing-bing-bing telescopic sound effect. Well, no, she doesn't, but she oughta, because while any movie with Emma Thompson = fantastic; a movie with a bionic Emma Thompson = freakin' awesome.
The PM's no later night partier. He's got his feet up, reading the FT (which is a fine paper, save for its lack of funnies and money-saving coupons to clip) and watching television.
Surprise: Billy Mack's on Parkinson!
Hosted by venerable (and real life) interviewer Sir Michael Parkinson, this long-running chat show was a popular Saturday night fixture, and Parkinson has claimed to have interviewed more than 2,000 of the world's most famous people over the show's 25 years on BBC and ITV. Up until a year or so ago "Parky's" show was regularly featured on BBC America, and I've always enjoyed his mix of entertainment and interview, probably one of the closest equivalents to The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson the UK had, at least until Jonathan Ross, "that guy who does Letterman in Britain," as Miss Zatanna so succinctly put it, came along. Want to read more about it? Don't go to your local library...check out Sir Michael's Wikipedia entry and fire up some YouTube clips (I especially recommend the Peter Cook interviews, and the infamous clip where a puppet emu attacks Parky...and if you want to see awkward, check out ice queen Meg Ryan's stilted and angry interview. Don't you dare go dissing Trinny and Susannah, Ryan! Grrrr.
One guest you'll not see on an official list of Parkinson guests before his retirement in 2007, is Billy Mack, but pictures don't lie: here he is, talking about his chances of reaching the Christmas Number One. It looks bleak ("Blue are outselling me five to one"), but Billy promises that if he does get to number one, he'll sing the song, stark naked, on TV Christmas Eve. Giving Parkinson a preview, he shimmies up to the venerable talk show host and starts to undo his zip. Quips Parky: "That'll never make number one!"
Back at the party, Mia and Harry are still chatting and flirting...
...pretty boldly, considering Karen and Sarah are watching.
Wow, this movie is just fulla stupid men, inn't it? Dumb, clueless, stupid, stupid men, who don't notice what's going on around them, like, say, Karl, who doesn't seem to notice or react to the obvious infatuation Sarah has for him, who never comes up to Sarah and asks her if she wants to have a dance...
Oh. Good call, Karl. You're off the hook. But I'm keeping my eye on you, bucky.
What starts out as a fast dance turns into a slow song, and Karl takes Sarah in his arms and...well, do I really need to ruin this moment with babbling on? Look at Sarah, hum your favorite love song to yourself. The movie soundtrack is playing "Turn Me On" by Norah Jones, if'n you get stuck humming "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" and need a hint in the right direction...oh, sorry. Dance, Sarah and Karl.
She takes him home. I think he's gonna stay for coffee. Or maybe gum. Hey, take a new stick, Karl!
Before inviting him in her flat, Sarah asks Karl to wait a moment. She goes around the corner, and jumps up and down in silent jubilant, excited glee. This scene was one of those shown in the trailer and I remember it getting a tremendous laugh...but it's sweet and oh-so-apt. Who hasn't felt like that at least once in their life when suddenly, unexpectedly, something you wanted so very bad is finally coming true?
"Come upstairs in ten seconds," Sarah instructs Karl, giving her time to rush up to her bedroom, clean up the scattered clothes...
...and pick up her Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed bear...
...give him a little kiss...
..and hide him under the bed. Which is dandy, because I can tell you from personal experience, boy howdy, it is fun playing under the bed.
Then you got a few minutes of Karl and Sarah kissing and other mushy stuff, so I'm going to go off and play pinball for a while.
Whoops! Sarah's phone is ringing again. Talk about bad timing. (Hang on, Karl!)
She picks it up, takes a deep breath, and puts on her best cheerful and encouraging voice. We can only hear her end of the conversation: "Right...yes...I'm not quite sure it's going to be possible to get the Pope on the phone tonight, but...yes, yes, I'm sure that he's very good at exorcism...well, I'm sure Jon Bon Jovi is as well, and I'll definitely look into it."
Speaking of laughs in the theater, this gets a pretty hearty one on your first viewing...it's only later on that we find out just how poignant this conversation is. As Sarah hangs up, she explains to the breathtakingly patient Karl: it's her brother. She doesn't go into details, simply that now she is the only one who can take care of him. Karl is understanding and sympathic (who'da thunk he'd be the guy with the most going for him so far in this movie?)...but then the phone rings again.
It's her brother again, of course. Again, we can't hear him, but we can tell he's in pain: "Oh, please, oh, don't, little darling..." she sooths. "Between the two of us, we'll find the answer and it won't hurt any more." And even Karl knows that she's going now, she's on her way to her brother.
Cut from one couple in a bedroom to another: Harry and Karen, preparing for bed after the party. They small talk for a moment, and then Karen says...sounding casual, but we know better: "Mia's very pretty." "Is she?" Harry asks. "You know she is, darling. Be careful there," Karen warns gently.
Get ready to boo and hiss and throw your popcorn on the screen as we cut to Mia's bedroom as she undresses for bed too. Alone. Hah!
Remember that photograph on Sarah's desk? At least we meet that man: Sarah's brother Michael (Michael Fitzgerald), but he's not the rugged and attractive man he was in his picture. He's gone to fat, with tousled hair, and darting eyes. He is in a psychiatric hospital, where Sarah has gone to visit him.
We don't find out why Michael is there. It doesn't matter. He's clearly deeply troubled. He speaks of the nurses trying to kill him, and Sarah soothes him: "Nobody's trying to kill you, babe." Michael's face turns to swift anger, and he lifts his hand up to strike his sister. Sarah's ready for him, as if expecting this...she's obviously seen it before. She catches his hand; the nurse catches his arm, holds him back firmly until he lowers it again. When Sarah speaks softly to her brother..."Don't do that, my darling. Don't do that."...it could break your heart.
Richard Curtis has put...I'm not certain this is the correct or political phrase...differently-abled persons in many of his movies. In Four Weddings and a Funeral, Charles (Hugh Grant)'s brother David (David Bower) is deaf. In Notting Hill, William's (guess who...Hugh Grant again!) friend Belle is confined to a wheelchair. Here, institutionalized Michael. In all cases the situation is presented with a matter-of-fact briefness; little or no backstory on how the character is in that situation. (In Notting Hill, William explains to Anna (Julia Roberts) that Belle was in an accident.) A Salon review of that film explains what I'm trying to say here:
Bella is confined to a wheelchair, and although the accident that put her there is briefly explained, the wheelchair doesn't end up being a major "feature" of the character.In short: Curtis's economical scriptwriting, adding only what's needed. It doesn't matter that Michael is in hospital...only that he is, and that Sarah is his sole comfort and connection in a terrifying world. We fill in the rest of the blanks ourselves.
What's interesting to me is the progression of these character's circumstances. David in Four Weddings is introduced and speaks in ASL, and even meets a woman, his future wife, at a wedding who communicates (haltingly) with him through sign language. Belle from Notting Hill has a beautiful home, a successful job, and a loving husbandthere is a wonderful and touching scene where husband Max (regular Curtis player Tim McInnerny) carries her carefully and tenderly up the stairs at the end of the night. But, as William tells Anna, the accident means she can't have any children. Michael in Love Actually is even further down the road of being the victim of circumstances, and unlike the other two, seems to have little hope or comfort, aside from Sarah, who is as used to his physical attack as she is to his phone calls.
Another woman in our story is also under attack...not physically, but emotionally. In the night, Karen lies awake, sleepless, plainly troubled and sad.
The next day isn't going to be much help to Karen. Back in the office, Mia's flirting with Harry again. Sarah's not in today...we know it's because she was up late with her brother, but Harry jokes about her having a morning-after hangover from the party. So, it's the day after the party, which makes this...Sunday? Hmmm, if the PM was watching Parkinson simultaneously with the office party, and Parkinson is on Saturday...wow, that's another suggestion...along with the placement of Peter and Julia's wedding...that everyone at Fairtrade works seven days a week. (Possible answer in my search for a Love Actually No-Prize: maybe David was watching a later night's repeat of Parky. Or, an even more likely possibility...Curtis made an error and the continuity person didn't catch it. Curse you, Sheila Marshall!
Harry announces he's going out Christmas shopping on his lunch hour, and Mia continues flirting with him (Oh, somebody bop her with a ruler or something. Down, girl! Down!) asking him sweetly what he's going to get her for Christmas. May I suggest a restraining order, Harry?
Out on the street, Harry hesitates, and then phones Mia again, asking her if she's going to give him anything. Mia sweetly purrs "When it comes to me, you can have everything." Oh, for cryin' out...honey, go back to the James Bond set where you'll fit in better.
Harry's at Selfridges, the famous Oxford Street department store.
Selfridges has an excellent and comprehensive FAQ on their website, answering such questions as "Can I bring my dog to the store?" (A: If you can stuff him in a handbag, sure thing!), and, for mountaineers, the GPS location of their shop. It does not answer the question "I'm considering having an adulterous affair with mysexually-aggressive secretary, what sort of seductive Christmas gift do you suggest I give her and oh my bollocks I'm meeting my wife here at the store and here she is forget I said anything click buzz."
While Karen wanders off to do shopping for their mothers, Harry gravitates to the jewelry department...
...where he catches sight of something flashy and expensive...oh, just like Mia.
Yep, £270 isn't too much to spend on a trinket to get Harry into bed with his secretary, and before you can say "Charrrrrrrge it!" he's passed over his credit card to shop clerk
For the moment, however, Rufus frustrates and bamboozles the anxious Harry by giftwrapping the necklace in an ever-increasingly complicated series of bags, perfumes, ribbons and greenery: deftly scooping potpourri, grinding a cinnamon stick, garnishing it with holly, all while Harry, nervously eager to finish the clandestine transaction before Karen returns, impatiently grumbles "Are you going to dip it in yoghurt and cover it with chocolate buttons?"
Rufus's elaborations delay the transaction long enough that Karen comes back before it's finished, and Harry backs away quickly from the jewelry counter, leaving Karen to tease that he's looking at jewelry for her.
And poor Rufus is left holding the bag. But unwittingly or not, he's done his good deed for the day. If you subscribe to the mythology of another great Christmas movie: if he were an angel, Rufus would be well on the way to earning his wings.
Karen and Harry leave the department store...isn't that always the case, you go Christmas shopping and leave the shop never buying what you need to. It always happens!
See, Harry, all this coulda been avoided if you'd only used my one-click store at Amazon.com:
See? Christmas shopping for potentially unfaithful husbands: solved, the Bully Way.
Next week: it's still one week till Christmas, so why is Karen opening her Christmas gifts (you'll be sorry, Emma Thompson!). Why are they serving Budweiser in the middle of Old Milwaukee Country? And just how much do pajamas cost, anyway?
Oh. Well, that's that question sussed out. Tune in next week for the rest of the answers on Love Actually in Sorta Real Time!