Its that time of year again. The countdown to Thanksgiving is on, the stores are starting to play Christmas music (goddammit), and I’ve finally had to admit that its time to put my shorts away for another year. Its also time for some of the honored traditions of the season, namely the annual viewing of ‘Love Actually’
I know there are a thousand ‘better’ movies, a heap of timeless classics that signal the start of the holiday season, but for me, its this stupid British movie all about love, and Christmas, and more love.
Sick bags are available in the seat pocket in front of you.
It started 9 years back when a the movie came out and I gamely trotted off to see the next ‘4 Weddings and a Funeral’. I was a bit homesick, as I tend to be around the holidays, and I thought 90 minutes of Bill Nighy, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth would cheer me up. I mean, Richard Curtis is good at the cutting British humor, the dry and nothing ever too serious.. how could it fail?
I left the cinema bawling.
No, it wasn’t that bad and nobody dies. However as a holiday movie for someone 3,200 miles from home, all of the things I ignore for 11.5 months suddenly became things I couldn’t live without for those two weeks before Christmas. I missed London’s Christmas lights (NYC can step aside); the frosty evenings hurrying home to catch the Tube; the late night shopping at Selfridges and yes, even the unique British tradition of the drunken office party (where everyone gets shitfaced at 3pm and starts snogging each other). The movie is a tribute to love, but to me, its a tribute to London at Christmas. Nowhere better. Honestly.
Charles Dickens would shed a tear for London’s retro Victorian picturesqueness throughout December, as people stagger to get their holiday shopping done (and get in a few glasses of ‘cheer’) before they stumble home. The streets are dark and frosty, the windows all gussied up with tinsel, stars and reindeers, and everyone is out walking the streets.
I think that’s what I miss most. Christmas in the US is about ‘going to the mall’. But in London its about heading downtown to shop, be around people who are feeling ‘Christmassy’, to eat and drink, to meet friends and shop together. And even as you stand in line for 40 minutes listening to Wham! drone about ‘Last Christmas’ or Noddy Holder celebrates a ‘Rockin Rolling Christmas’ one more time, the lack of change is what etches it in my brain. Even now I could list of the 10 songs you’d hear in every British store this holiday season. Us Brits.. we love our traditions.
Back to the movie.
I’m not going to recap the story – rent the movie – suffice to say its a series of love stories intertwined; some are heartbreaking, some hysterical, others charming, one is sickly sweet and one clearly a fantasy on the part of Hugh Grant (who plays the British Prime Minister to Billy Bob Thornton’s US president). Oh yes, this movie has everyone in it and just about every storyline you can think up.
- Prime minster in love with a tea lady?
- Cuckolded writer who falls for his Portuguese housekeeper ?
- 11 year boy who wins the heart of an American chanteuse?
- Love sick best friend who is secretly obsessed his buddies wife?
- Aging rocker who’s trying for one last come back?
- Sad sack waiter desperate to get laid.. in Milwaukee?
- Aging ad exec who prioritizes caring for her mentally ill brother over getting laid
- Porn star stand in’s trying to make a date while nakedin compromising positions
Oh.. and that’s just some of the stories.
Now this isn’t a heavy movie, but it is helped by a cast that can act. Well most of them.
Who’s in it? The incomparable Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightly, Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Billy Bob Thornton, January Jones, and bizarrely Claudia Schiffer, Denise Richards, Shannon Elizabeth and Elisha Cuthbert. Even Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) is in the damn thing along with Rowan Atkinson. I think the only English actor not in it is Dame Judy Dench.
Bizarrely, everyone is somehow connected to everyone else (well it is tiny London), and everything resolves itself by the final act. Which is where my and every other person’s tears start.
The final scene is at the airport and simply shows people greeting friends, families, kids and relatives off the plane. Everyone hugs, or kisses, or shakes hands.. but regardless, everyone looks delighted.
(I didn’t say it was realistic by any shot)
Meanwhile, as we watch the joyful faces of families embracing, kids running to parents etc etc.. Hugh Grant intones the necessity for people to feel love around the holidays, how we’re all connected and that the holidays are a time when we all come together…
…and every single person wants to stick a fork in their eye.
Hey, I’ve bawled even when I was married. It STILL made me yearn to be back in London.
But no matter what my circumstances are, every year I drag out my DVD, my tissues and press play. Its a form of torture, but I wallow in my homesickness. From the sickly sweet storylines, to poor Emma Thompson listening to Joni Mitchell sing ‘Both Sides Now’ knowing she’s not as cherished as she once thought. You either love it or you don’t.
So, if you’re wondering what holiday movie to drag out this year and you’re sick of ‘A Christmas Story’ or ‘Its a Wonderful Life’, check out Love Actually. Its 10 years old, but it holds up. And you’ll never feel the same about an airport at Christmas ever again.