538’s analysis of “Love, Actually”

I realize that many of you rely on me for my annual insights into Love, Actually, the Christmas film that has ruined so many lives. This year I just wanted to point folks to 538’s “definitive analysis” of what it calls “the greatest Christmas movie of all time”. (This appeared last year, and maybe they didn’t have time to include Bad Santa 2 in their thinking.)

The first part of the article is standard statistical analysis of the actors–whose movies have made the most money since Love, Actually (Liam Neeson) and whose movies have the highest IMDB rating (Alan Rickman).

The authors then do a “network analysis” of the movie. It looks like this:

And they analyze how much time characters spend talking to other characters. The authors’ conclusion: Laura Linney’s character is the linchpin of the movie.

Linney’s character is the one that truly straddles the two Londons. In a movie stuffed with redundant plots and permutations of the same stereotypes, there’s no character quite like her. If you find yourself forced to Grinch through a viewing of “Love Actually” this holiday season, treasure Laura Linney — she’s a bona fide Christmas miracle.

Good lord. There are many reason to watch (parts of) Love, Actually. The simpering Laura Linney character is not one of them. Statistical analysis does not always lead to aesthetic insight.

I will report back later on Bad Santa 2, which we’ve been saving up for this holiday season.

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The best way to watch “Love Actually”

You guys don’t care about John Donne.  The first Facebook comment about my previous post was: “But what about Love Actually?”  Philistines.

Assuming that one has to watch “Love Actually” every year at this time, and most of us do, whether we want to or not, how does one survive the ordeal?  The answer, we have decided, is to fast-forward through the awful parts.  For example, none of this Liam Neeson and his stepson crap:

Skip the boring unfunny porn-star-stand-in scenes with Martin Freeman:

And most especially ax the dreary Laura Linney and her crazy brother subplot:

What you’re left with are the Hugh Grant scenes, which are pretty funny; the Colin Firth scenes, which are moderately funny; the Keira Knightley scenes (which aren’t funny but, you know, Keira Knightley); the Brit-goes-to-America scenes, which are stupid but kind of funny; and the Alan Rickman/Emma Thompson scenes — because, you know, Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson.  Also the Rowan Atkinson scene, which is priceless.

This results in a tolerable movie that is less than 90 minutes long.

I still don’t know how to cope with my wife pointing out all the many unbelievable things that happen in the course of those 90 minutes: “Alan Rickman would never bring the necklace for his girlfriend home where Emma Thompson can find it.”  “The Prime Minister would never come through Heathrow arrivals with everyone else.”  “No school would have a Christmas play on Christmas Eve.”

I know all this.  It’s your idea to watch the thing.  Every year.  It doesn’t become more plausible with the passage of time.

Now I’ll shut up until next year.

Update: No, I won’t shut up.  Turns out that in my general befuddlement I forgot the best part of the movie: the Bill Nighy aging pop-star subplot.  You can actually skip everything else (except maybe Keira Knightley) and just watch that.  Here’s my favorite quote from Billy Mack:

Hiya kids. Here is an important message from your Uncle Bill. Don’t buy drugs. Become a pop star, and they give you them for free!

And his final line to his manager on Christmas Eve: “Now let’s get pissed and watch porn.”

Always good advice!

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a post about “Love Actually”

See here and here and here for examples in this genre.

The most tear-jerky part of Love Actually is its ending, a sequence of joyous reunions at Heathrow’s International Arrivals Terminal, set to the Beach Boys’ glorious “God Only Knows”.   Like so:

So, we had a joyous reunion with our son the other day at the International Arrivals Terminal of Boston’s Logan Airport, coming home to the States after a couple of years in the Middle East.  And my lovely wife got it in her head that this arrival should also be accompanied by the “God Only Knows” soundtrack, playing it on a speaker attached to her iPhone.

This was a pretty good idea.  Except, you know, for the part where her son would hate it.  He goes over and hugs her, and at the same time disconnects the cord, stopping the soundtrack.  And here is the photographic record of the wonderful reunion, my son beaming at the camera and his mother desperately trying to figure out how to get the music playing again:

2015-12-18 19.33.24

No matter — life is better than any movie.  Welcome home, James!  And happy holidays, everyone.

Writers in movies: Love Actually

It seems as if I’ve been seeing a lot of writers portrayed in movies lately.  Here I mentioned the difficulty of portraying the writing life on film: it’s just too boring.  But that doesn’t keep screenwriters from trying.  Screenwriters should at least get the details right, but those details generally seem to escape them as well.

Let’s start with Love Actually, which features Colin Firth as a hack novelist falling in love with his Portuguese house cleaner.  (This comes in eighth out of the nine plot lines in the movie, according to this post; I’d rate it a little higher.)  In the plot, very little is made out of his being a writer — it just seems to be there to set up the scene in which a gust of wind blows his manuscript pages into a pond, forcing him and the maid to strip to their underwear and hop into the pond to rescue them.  This of course makes them fall in love.

Fair enough — the maid looks pretty good in her underwear.  But the setup is stupid.  I suppose we can believe that a hack writer in 2003 wouldn’t be using a computer.  But apparently we’re also supposed to believe that he wouldn’t be making daily copies of his manuscript pages, in an era of cheap home photocopiers.  And that’s just idiotic beyond words.  This isn’t something he’s doing for creative expression; it’s his job.  I haven’t seen anyone remark on this scene; Love Actually offers far easier targets for criticism.  But this one never fails to irk me when I’m forced to endure our annual holiday viewing.

Love Actually is ten years old, but I still have to keep watching it

The DVD has been placed next to the DVD player.  I have been informed that the annual event will take place Sunday or Monday evening.  I can’t wait to experience yet again what has been called “the apex of cynically vacant faux-motional cash-grab garbage cinema”.  (I don’t know what faux-motional means, but it sure doesn’t sound good.)

Last year I had my say about Love Actually, and this year everyone seems to be piling on.  The film critic of The Atlantic calls the idea of watching the movie every years as a holiday tradition “utterly insane” and goes on at novella length about how anti-romantic it is.  He has good things to say about a couple of the subplots, but then:

As for the rest of the film—which is to say, the bulk of the film—I think it offers up at least three disturbing lessons about love. First, that love is overwhelmingly a product of physical attraction and requires virtually no verbal communication or intellectual/emotional affinity of any kind. Second, that the principal barrier to consummating a relationship is mustering the nerve to say “I love you”—preferably with some grand gesture—and that once you manage that, you’re basically on the fast track to nuptial bliss. And third, that any actual obstacle to romantic fulfillment, however surmountable, is not worth the effort it would require to overcome.

All of which is undoubtedly true, but geez, it’s also true of just about any romantic comedy that comes out of Hollywood.  At least in Love Actually some of the romances actually fail.

Which is to say that I’m beginning to feel a bit of sympathy for the movie, even if I’m not exactly looking forward to seeing Liam Neeson’s kid running endlessly through Heathrow to say goodbye to his ten-year-old beloved.  There’s always Hugh Grant dancing, and Emma Thompson crying, and Keira Knightley looking pretty, and Bill Nighy being Bill Nighy.

In a recent Boston Globe readers poll, Love Actually came in fifth on the list of favorite Christmas movies, tops among modern films except for the sublime Elf.  Is it possible the readers know something the critics don’t?

If “Love Actually” is so bad, why do I have to watch it every year?

My lovely wife was getting nervous as Christmas approached: Love Actually wasn’t available on Netflix streaming or Verizon on-demand. So finally we had to buy the DVD from Amazon (with faster shipping to make sure it arrived before Christmas).  This means we need never worry that we’ll be without Love Actually when we need it.  Phew.

The thing is, every year her complaints about the movie increase.  Every year she notices more implausibilities and other assorted irritants to raise her ire.  Here are a few.  (I left out many more in the interest of brevity.)

  • Why can’t any of the men in this picture close the deal with the woman they want? ? Even Claudia Schiffer can’t make Liam Neeson ask for a playdate, coffee date, anything?  A porn star stand-in can’t ask out a costar?  Mr. Underpants can’t ask out Laura Linney in 2 years, 7 months?  Colin the caterer is the only one who can open his mouth and flirt with a woman.
  • Why don’t most characters wear warm clothing outdoors? 
  • Why would Keira Knightley’s wedding video be ruined?  A pro uses two cameras.
  • Why was the prime minister home alone on Christmas eve?  Why couldn’t he get the address of a recent employee by phone?
  • What’s up with the all the fat jokes?  Natalie, Aurelia’s sister, “my fat manager,” and so on. Is it a feel-good movie or what?

None of these problems keep her from watching, though. Because, you know, Hugh Grant.  And, especially, Bill Nighy.  Here is a writer in Salon making the case that Love Actually is the worst Christmas movie ever.  She calls it “demoralizing, misogynistic holiday twaddle.”  I dunno.  I guess I’ll have to see it a few more times to decide if I agree.