Love Actually…is quite Conservative

8:44 PM Nov 29, 2003by Rob Ritchie

Donna and I wanted to see a movie this afternoon, after some light shopping, and decided to go see “Love Actually”, the new film by Richard Curtis. From the ads, I had pegged it as a “chick-flick” along the lines of the execrable “Bridget Jones’s Diary, (which was also written by Richard Curtis) but as it starred several actors that I particularly like (Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant et. al.) I agreed to see it, especially since it was showing at a convenient time.

This movie is definitely a post-9/11 romantic comedy (the opening sequence refers to the calls made by passengers on the hijacked planes) in that it celebrates human relationships, the love that is “all around” in the world, in all its forms: the love of a widower for his dead wife; the love of parents and their children; of young married couples; of love unrequited and returned; of the painful love of family duty; and, of course, everyone’s love of Claudia Schiffer.

Curtis, who also wrote the script, has created a film about a number of people more-or-less loosely connected via friendships and family, each of whom has reached some sort of romantic crisis. Several parallel storylines weave in and out as each relationship develops (or disintegrates), culminating in heart-warming satisfaction (or heart-wrenching sadness) for each.

The reason I characterize this file as post-9/11 is that it seems to me very conservative in its depiction of physical relationships. While the language is as trashy as I have come to expect from much modern British film, the characters talk a lot about sex but there is precious little of it done outside of traditional conservative venues. A gorgeous young married couple, one would assume, are busy consummating their brains out, but none of it on-screen. Adultery happens off-screen, and is significant only for its impact on the family, not the individuals. Our heroes and heroines pine away chastely for one another, as family obligation and circumstance conspire to keep them apart.

The only exceptions to this are for humorous effect. One recurring couple work in the film industry as body-doubles in what is probably some sort of soft-porn film. Throughout the movie, we see them hard at work at their simulated sex-acts, politely chatting about the weather and inquiring about each others families until at last they work up the nerve to go out on a date, which barely ends with a kiss. Another buffoonish young character, despairing of ever finding an English girl, resolves to go to America to live out his fantasies about the girls across the Atlantic; all I can say is, Bill, buy a ticket to Milwaukee!

The requirement to bring each relationship to a climatic resolution virtually simultaneously results in some clunky storytelling towards the end of the film. Also, in at attempt to insert a little British patriotism the filmmakers had to insert a Clintonesque Billy-Bob Thornton into the film to play against Grant’s apre-Blair PM, which is both embarrassing and annoying.

Other than these quibbles, I enjoyed the movie and recommend it to anyone who is of appropriate age and inclination. There are sadnesses in this film that will bring tears to the eyes of the softhearted, and joys that will bring hope to the brokenhearted.