"Let's go get the shit kicked out of us by love." A direct quote from towards the end of this wonderfully crafted romantic comedy. Romantic comedies quickly became more of a joke of a genre, playing too often in the same cliches, and showing romance and love in too fantastic and drastic terms. In short they made love, such a wonderful thing, into something too unbelievable and unattainable. What Love Actually builds are several stories about love in its many forms from deep life long friendships to infidelity to love at first sight.
The film builds an intricate but entirely follow-able series of stories. One tells about Daniel, played by Liam Neeson, and the recent death of his wife Joanna. As Daniel has to deal with loss of love he worries about Sam, his son, who has been quiet and distant. Soon he discovers his son has fallen in love with a girl at school and now Daniel and his son are remembering and learning about love together so Sam can muster up the courage to admit his feelings. Another story is about Sarah, played by Laura Linney, who is clearly lonely and crushing hard on one of her coworkers but her mentally disabled brother monopolizes so much of her life she has to choose the love for her family or new love. It's these stories, how they interact and intertwine, and how they're incredibly told that leaves you believing love all over again.
Christmas isn't the overwhelming message or theme of the film but more like an excuse. Over and over you'll begin to hear characters mention how Christmas is the time to tell the truth because if you can't at the holidays then when can you? It also allows for moments and excuses for love to fail. Alan Rickman plays Harry who is mostly happily married with two kids and yet no matter his attempts to ignore his secretary's advances he eventually falters. The mistake isn't a big one unless you're one of the two within a loving marriage that simply has gone a bit cold.
That lack of acknowledgement that Christmas just so happens to be the setting helps to further this movie's feeling of reality. It isn't shoved into every scene or down your throat like some holiday films tend to do and I wouldn't call this a family film either. Love Actually features foul language, nudity, and sex simulation (or stand in sex) which may not fly for some aunts and uncles. This is more for a group of friends enjoying some time off for the holidays with a few drinks.
I always head into this film expecting my memories are skewed and this romantic comedy is just another generic clone. And while there are some moments that might leave you wondering if that's how life really works there are enough stories that vary so much you're left feeling that love doesn't have one path alone. Instead it can come in many forms and in many ways and to look around at what we already have and still dream about what could be.
Another Christmas movie pick: Jingle All The Way.
Another Christmas movie pick: White Christmas.