The Rip Post




Love? Not Actually
(Dec. 3, 2003)

        The movie, "Love, Actually," isn't really about love, actually. Unless, perhaps, you consider the behavior of say, ferrets---or hoofed animals--- to constitute "love." Better to have called director Richard Curtis's would-be Christmas valentine, "Rutting, actually." Or how about "Uhhh! Uhhh!"
        Look, I understand all about sex. I think I might have even experienced it once or twice, long ago. I know how it is hard-wired into emotion and intellect, and is the primary means of inter-gender attraction (apologies to West Hollywood.) I fully comprehend how young people fall hapless prey to madcap hormones, and what jolly fun that can be. I understand how the media has turned said hormones into a trillion-dollar industry, clear of conscience regarding any damage done to impressionable young minds.
        But Curtis's many-plotted attempt to remind the world of the story of, the glory of love. . .reminds more of the whore-y of love. Every character in the film---with the exception of the two kids (thank goodness)---can't wait to play mix-and-match with genitalia. Oh, okay,  plus Emma Thompson, whose husband has a wandering eye and potentially wandering wang.
        But of the ten-or-so main figures in the film, there are few exceptions to the beloved old homily, "lust conquers all." One is Laura Linney's troubled character, whose sexual freedom is stunted by an emotionally disturbed brother. How? Shy Laura finally beds a swarthy workmate, only to have Schizo-Bro's phone calls practically induce coitus interruptus. In the end, Laura opts for brotherly love, and dumps her humpmate. Another exception is Thompson, who reminds Alan Rickman that marriage means more than mogambo. And Bill Nighy's heroin-dessicated grandpa rock star professing his platonic preference for his "fat, ugly" manager on Christmas Eve is goofily touching.
Love, actually? To Curtis, love is actually hugging, kissing, playing "All You Need is Love" at a giant wedding, and most of all, tab-A into slot-B.
        The rest of this shaggy film is about shagging. Hugh Grant's Prime Minister has an eye for the hefty thighs of his lady-in-waiting, and she only has thighs for him. A cuckolded Brit writer falls in "love" with his Portuguese cleaning woman (chauvinism, anyone?) after she strips to her Victoria's Secret dainties and dives into a lake to retrieve his errant manuscript (displaying the requisite tatoo at the base of the spine.) New widower Liam Neeson lusts after Claudia Schiffer (and eventually meets a Claudia Schiffer double, played by. . .Claudia Schiffer), and jokes with his ten-year-old stepson that the lad will have to vacate the premises while Liam mounts Claudia in every room in the house, "including your room."
        Okay, there is irony in the sex-scene stand-ins meeting one another while totally nude, simulating the Kama Sutra, then falling in "love" while fully clothed, but this is romance? The most honest depiction of sex in the film has to do with a randy young Brit convinced that if he visits the USA, vapid All-American chickies will ravage him because of his cute British accent. He turns out to be right.
         Love, actually? To Curtis, love is actually hugging, kissing, playing "All You Need is Love" at a giant wedding, and most of all, tab-A into slot-B. He presents little evidence that love has anything to do with conversation, rapport, like-mindedness, un-likemindedness, mutual interests, sense of humor, or bowling leagues. No, just look into someone's eyes, and wham-o! Love is all around you, like a hula hoop. While such things do happen, in Curitsworld, they are epidemic.
        That's the theme of the movie, and also the theme song: "Love is All Around." Curtis's evidence? Oodles of people hugging one another at airports! Hell, to watch this flick, you'd think that airports were full of family reunions arranged by Oprah and Montel. Curtis apparently thinks that every single person who gets off a plane soon. . .gets off. That he or she has someone waiting to adorn him or her with kissy-poos.
        I don't know about you, but I've been in a few airports around the world, and for the most part, people just look tired and lonely. And alone---very, very alone. I once came back from six months overseas, anxiously awaiting family and friends to greet me. Who showed up? My low-key brother, dully remarking, "Have fun?" Then there was the time I stepped off a plane fairly sweating scotch, prompting my then-wife to screw up her face, grumble, "did you drink?", then walk about ten steps ahead of me. Well, I couldn't blame her.
        Curtis's movie is actually "Infatuation, Actually." I don't give any of his couples more than a few weeks together---especially those newlyweds. After all, the groom's best friend has the hots for the bride (superwaif Keira Knightley), and practically stalks her in the process. Curiously, she seems flattered, and gives the self-pitying creep a Christmas Eve facial-suck while new hubby waits, unsuspecting, inside the honeymoon flat. Ain't love grand?   
         Now, none of this is really important, unless you buy into the notion that movies have enormous influence on popular culture and behavior. And as we all know, there are many, many studies that prove that motion pictures have no affect whatsoever on how people think or act. Ask any fabulously wealthy movie mogul who presides over films depicting mayhem, rape, murder, sexual degradation, or that pander to the most banal of human impulses, and the most unsophisticated of thinking. Mogul will tell you that the amount of mayhem, rape, murder, sexual degradation, banal impulse, and sheer stupidity in the world is pure coincidence. I mean, Oliver Stone's "JFK," which cynically---almost criminally---mixes every single Kennedy Assassination theory into one big orgy of conspiratorial claptrap, has nothing to do with the fact that most young people believe that the CIA/Mob/ Castro/LBJ/a French poodle did it, right? Sheer coincidence.
        But I'm not writing this to denounce Curtis, because I actually sort of liked "Love, Actually." Its heart was in the right place, even if it couldn't keep more volatile portions of anatomy under control. There were real laughs here and there, and the acting was solid. Nighy, Rowan Atkinson and Grant alone were worth the price of admission. "Actually" was actually no real hardship until the last 20 minutes or so, when Curtis decided to bombard the barely sentient with hypertrophic sentimentality, and ripped off the climactic scene from "School of Rock." (By the way, which composer first invoked roaring french horns for tear-jerking purposes? I'd like to stick his or her head down a roaring french horn.)
        My point here is simple: wouldn't it have been nice if Curtis had made a film about . . .love? Actually?

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