Classically Lacking is a series where I tackle classics which have passed me by and pass judgement on them. Have they held up? Are they worth revisiting? This week, I’m taking on a Christmas classic in a genre I – stereotypically – know little about: the Rom Com.
On the latest episode of Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Radio Five film show (Wittertainment, the Church, etc.) Love Actually came up twice. Firstly it was a possibility for TV Movie of the Week. Then it was was an option in the So Bad It’s Bad poll, i.e. the Worst TV Movie of the Week. Although Kermode is a lover rather than a hater of the Richard Curtis classic, there were some rather committed take downs of the movie from listeners, who seemed to celebrate that it was even considered in the lesser category. To be put it as simply as possible, it sure seems like some people hate this movie, and it sure seems like some people love it.
Until now, I had no opinion.
So, the movie begins. I hear Hugh Grant’s voice, his opening monologue about how the world actually isn’t as crappy as everyone says and is, in fact, full of love, and I think:
I am not going to like this movie at all.
Then Bill Nighy appears on screen, crooning like a fabulous moron and I think it might not be too bad, actually.
This is the movie: it’s nearly Christmas. Bill Nighy is an ageing rocker in the midst of a Christmas comeback, it is dreadful. He expects it, he doesn’t care. This is all just background noise to the real heroes of the piece: middle-class Londoners. Over the course of the movie we bare witness to their trials and tribulations in romance.
So, who’ve we got? Hugh Grant is the newly elected Prime Minister, who quickly falls in love one of his house staff. Hugh Grant’s sister is Emma Thompson who is friends with Liam Neeson who’s wife has just copped it. His quirky son isn’t too bothered about his mum, but he is suffering the agony of love. Emma Thompson is married to Alan Rickman, who has a saucy employee is desperate for him to get up in her. Then there’s Andrew Lincoln, who is love with Keira Knightley, who is marrying Lincoln’s best friend Chiwetel Ejiofor. Colin Firth is buddies with Lincoln and Ejiofor, and turns up at the wedding, but his girlfriend does not. She’s busy shagging his brother. Firth catches them in the act and goes to France and falls in love with a Portuguese cleaner whilst he tries to write a book. Also Kris Marshall goes to America looking for action, because he isn’t quite in full possession of his mental faculties.
Anyway. What does it really matter? It’s a bunch of people you know, and probably like, shacking up and switching partners like they’re part of a swingers club. There are reasons to like this movie. People do really, really like this movie. In fact you probably do, don’t you?
Do I though? Do I recommend it? That’s what this post is always about, answering a simple question: is this movie worth your time? Classically Lacking has been an unanimously positive project so far, revelling in great books and movies which should not be lost to the sands of time. I’m not upset about this. Most of the internet seems fuelled by rage clicks, worst of the years lists, and contrarian hot takes expertly designed to extract furious tears from the web surfing populace. It’s nice, sometimes, to be nice.
Sometimes it’s hard to be nice.
Let’s at least begin positive. Alan Rickman is great, and has a wonderful scene with Rowan Atkinson in the jewellery section of a department store as he experiences the terrors of Christmas gift wrapping. Bill Nighy is also good fun as a horrible old rocker who knows he is putting out some absolute dross in his musical life. Laura Linney gives a completely convincing performance as someone struggling to balance her difficult family situation with her romantic desires. Emma Thompson is, as always, perfect. In fact, nearly everyone is at least good at performing what they are given, with the exception of Andrew Lincoln who I can say, without any guilt, is really bloody dreadful in this.
Speaking of which, let’s get going on what is probably the most famous scene from the film, yes you know the one. The one with a bloke (who I never knew was Andrew Lincoln until 2 hours and 14 minutes ago) outside Keira Knightley’s house with a bunch of paper sheets he’s felt tipped mushy messages all over. Inside is his best friend, the husband of the wife he is currently and unnecessarily unveiling his love for. Earlier his feelings were revealed by the fact that when he was filming the wedding he couldn’t stop zooming in on Keira’s feet or face or whatever. After she works this out she says: ‘They’re all of me,’ and then Lincoln runs out of the room and a Dido song plays. I could leave it there, but this is unforgivable, and yet the film presents the situation as merely difficult, misfortunate – what can Mr Andrew Lincoln do? Not declare his unconditional lust for his best friends wife? NO! NO HE MUST! IT IS HIS RIGHT!
Anyway that’s shit, and I hate it.
Hugh Grant becomes slightly less annoying as the film goes on, however during an impromptu speech made whilst facing the media alongside the visiting US President (Billy Bob Thornton) he turns full Winston Churchill and the country falls to its knees in love with him. The room erupts into applause in such a ludicrously overblown manner that I thought it was going to turn out to be a dream sequence – and that’s what this all is isn’t it? It’s a dream, a fantasy. For who? Wankers, I presume. Certainly you have to have a certain amount of financial freedom to care about this bollocks, and a man most certainly, as perfectly evidenced by the slow motion stripping sequence we see as Firth’s suffering Portuguese cleaner dives into a pond to save his book which he has stupidly written OUTSIDE, ON A TYPEWRITER with all the loose pages just flapping around!
For crying out loud!
Why those two have any feelings for each other is completely unclear to me, but then this movie is about love, actually. Love is all around, you know. Everyone is in love, and we are supposed to just accept that. There is no effort to make you see or feel why any of these people have feelings for each other, everyone just does.
Maybe that’s the key.
If you can believe that all these wretched souls are blessed/cursed with the ability to fall in love without saying a damn word to each other, then maybe there’s something here. There are jokes. Some of them land. There are also moments when characters say, verbatim, song lyrics and titles. If the sound of Colin Firth landing at his typewriter and saying ‘alone again, naturally’ is not completely appalling to you, then this might be for you, but I must be honest (because according to Lincoln, Christmas is the time when you tell the truth): when I heard this my eyes blinked hard and involuntarily, as if I had just come very close to hitting a bird with my car and that, for me, sums it all up.