Love Actually: Part 1

Okay, to focus on the characterization in this film… I really need to break the movie up, because there are several intertwining plotlines. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to assume anyone reading this has seen the movie or is at least somewhat familiar with it (doing a plot recap would take way too much space). If you read this analysis and it makes no sense, go see the movie first… even if you hate it, you’ll probably still laugh your ass off at the antics of Bill Nighy.

Daniel & Sam: Boys and Girls, but Mostly Boys.

All right, this is a sad story…widower struggles to raise a son by himself. I thought the funeral at the beginning was actually the best part…it showcases how badly Daniel is hurting, and also how much he loved his strong-willed wife and is going to have problems without her.

And then…the rest of the movie proceeds, and he seems to get along just fine! Hell, I don’t know how much time passed, but by the end of the movie, he’s making moves on lil’ miss Claudia Schiffer. Where’s your neverending tragic love, Daniel?< Petered out kind of quick, didn’t it?

Considering what a great tragic figure Liam Neeson can do, I think this story kind of fell flat. Aside from some crying jags, I didn’t see him doing a whole lot of mourning. Or the son, for that matter. After that first scene that showed what a great woman she was, the dead mother was kind of… absent.

For that matter, women seemed kind of absent from the storyline in general, as people. The love of Sam’s life, while clearly pretty and talented (and POC, nice extra), is not really explored at all, and certainly the emphasis is on Sam “winning her”, not what she really wants. For a storyline that seems to be about love, this seemed to really focus on male romanticism of women.

Karen and Harry: Men Can Be Such Dumbasses

Mixed feelings. Now I love Alan Rickman, okay? And I think he’s a great actor, because he can play so many different roles. Well, in this role he plays a likable guy who also happens to be an idiot, and kind of an asshole. I mean, come ON! Besides being a happily married family man, you’re married to Emma Thompson! She’s gorgeous!

Despite the sadness of it, there’s a lot I like about this story (though to be honest, I like the sadness too…I like a good sad feeling, sometimes). I like that one of the primary focuses, really, is on how this affair hurts Karen. The scene where she opens her gift and finds a CD instead of a necklace, then quietly excuses herself with a plastic smile to go cry in the next room…that’s almost the saddest part of the movie.

And while they don’t try to portray Harry as a bad guy (he isn’t, really, I don’t think), they certainly don’t try to make it look like he’s in any way in the right (as of course, he isn’t). For that matter, it points out how utterly stupid it is for men to cheat, or even play at cheating…as far as I know, he never even got anything from Mia! So you just blew 300 quid, hurt your wife and maybe ruined your marriage… for what? Not even sex? For the chance to feel like young women want to get into your pants? Do guys really do this? Yeah, sad to say, they do… but why? Does society make it so that men feel justified in this behavior? Does it put such a premium on men feeling “virile” that they feel they need to (and should) do stupid, hurtful things to reinforce their self-image? Is this a commentary on how male egotism feeds the mid-life crisis?

My only real dislike is that Mia is tremendously cardboard…on the cast list, it should have just said “evil temptress”.

Comments

  1. scarlett says

    It’s been years since I saw the movie in its entirity, but I don’t think Mia was such an ‘evil temptress’. I’ve seen a few people have affairs with people who are married/in longterm relationships because they’re too young and selfish to care (or too niave not to realise it HE WON’T LEAVE!) as opposed to evil.

    I was watching part of it with my boyfriend a few months ago and he couldn’t get past ‘but… who’d want to cheat on Emma Thomson for someone vain and pretty and selfish?’ I think it was about the sense of entitlement, that he wanted the pretty and he could justify to himself that it wasn’t hurting anyone when it was.

    I really liked the way Harry was portrayed as someone who was basically a decent person but who let his penis do his thinking and had to wear the consequences. I liked that Karen didn’t let him off – the ambigous ending worked really well.

    As far as the Daniel and Sam storyline goes – yes, Liam Neeson does have that ‘gentle giant’ thing going for him that makes tragic work fo well. One small detail – I was under the impression that Sam was his stepson, doesn’t he always call Daniel ‘Daniel’, not ‘Dad’.

    The thing with the girl Sam has and crush on bothered me a bit, because as far as I could tell, he knew nothing about her, he just had a crush on a pretty girl and the fact he raced through the airport for said pretty girl he knew nothing about – I had to use the word ‘pursuit’ because I think it was a lot more innocent being about children, but it did seem like he was going to great lengths to pursue the pretty.

    And I seem to remember watching the movie with friends a few years ago and there being a running commentary about teh Brits never hearing of the IRA, because they have incredibly lax airports security, what with everyone being allowed to run around :p

  2. says

    “…but by the end of the movie, he’s making moves on lil’ miss Claudia Schiffer.”

    If you want to get nit-picky, Daniel’s “making moves” on Claudia Schiffer could be viewed as simply fulfilling one of his late-wife’s wishes, as was explained about 15 minutes into the film. =)

    Where’s your neverending tragic love, Daniel?< Petered out kind of quick, didn’t it?

    In the beginning of the film, also right around the 15-minute mark, Daniel explains that he and his wife had “…a lot of time to prepare for this moment.” As such, people in his situation go through the grieving process along with family members and other loved ones before the death. Does this mean that because he is not spending the entire movie grieving and weeping, that he is not mourning the loss of his wife? Absolutely not. If the movie was meant to focus on Daniel’s life, post-burial, then it would have.

    It seems to me that the majority of his anguish, after the funeral, was due to the fact that, as Daniel says in the kitchen of his home, “The step-father thing never seemed to matter as much as it does now.” He also goes on to say that he’s worried about screwing up Sam’s life.

    To me, the writers made it pretty clear that Daniel was incredibly burdened by the needs of his rambunctious step-son. He does spend time trying to talk to people about the ordeal both on the phone and in person, yet when it becomes clear that his step-son is bothered by something and becoming a recluse, he does what any responsible, concerned parent would do – he talks with him and helps him workout the anxiety in his life. As a parent, one must put the needs of their children before their own. Even if that means putting their sorrow on the shelf until a later time.

    In a movie such as Love Actually, where there are several stories/lives which all eventually intersect, there simply is not time to divulge all of the details of each and every situation. In these cases, I think reading too much into things takes away from the beauty of the concept and ideals.

  3. says

    I think reading too much into things takes away from the beauty of the concept and ideals.

    I wouldn’t assume he “read too much into” anything. People often interpret criticism as “looking for negatives”, but I think it’s better defined as looking past your personal reaction to the movie and trying to see it on another level. Your way of looking at the movie is no more or less legitimate than Spartakos’ – it’s all good. :)

  4. says

    Re: Mia as an “evil temptress”. What I meant more was that they didn’t bother to explore her as a person…her sole presence in the story was to tempt Harry into making an idiotic mistake. For that matter, I got the feeling (and this may be me personally) that she wasn’t interested in a relationship with Harry so much as flirting with him to see how far he would go. Maybe she should have been cast as “Pretty Homewrecker”, is that more apt? :)

    Re: dead wife wish-fulfillment…yes, I got the joke. :) But that’s from a meta-analysis…suspending disbelief (that she’s not really Claudia Schiffer, and that Daniel and she are real people), that seems like a rapid bounceback to me. To be honest, I don’t know…I’ve been married 7 years, but never been widowed. Maybe it’s perfectly normal to “get back on the horse” after your spouse’s death, or maybe that’s an acceptable length of time (I admit, I don’t even know how long it is). I’m a sucker/believer in the old “love eternal” trope, which implies that Daniel should love and grieve his wife…well, basically forever. Even if he does eventually love someone else, his love for his previous wife is going to be a factor in there. And while it could have been an unseen factor…the fact that it’s unseen is notable.

    Re: Daniel hiding his grief to help Sam. This is a perfectly legitimate point, in that the focus of the movie was on Daniel’s relationship with his stepson and not with his dead wife. But in truth, that’s the only point I was making: this story was about two guys, not about the females they are (ostensibly) in love with. Again…where the story is focused is as interesting as what happens.

    Oh, and Beta’s right…to be honest, this whole review was an exercise for me in looking at things from a different point of view. I love the movie, I think it’s great, and I’ve enjoyed it every time I watched it. I’m not saying “this sucks”, I’m saying, “this was great…but why’d you do this?”.

  5. says

    Men do tend to leap into relationships more quickly than women after being widowed. While this is a very common anecdotal observation, I’ve also seen stats that indicate on average men get involved in half the time it takes women to start again after losing a spouse. Why this is, I don’t know, but it’s not exactly a romantic ideal. I don’t think it always indicates a lack of love or eerily pragmatic, “I need a replacement fem-unit, stat!” attitude, but it’s probably driven by fear of loneliness in a lot of cases… which again, just isn’t very romantic.

  6. says

    I’m not saying “this sucks”, I’m saying, “this was great…but why’d you do this?”.

    Exactly. And I think it’s most of what we tend to do on this site. We write far more about shows we like with “buts” attached than we do about stuff that just makes our heads explode from suckitude (though sometimes we do that too). I’m really glad you did it, too, because I think guest posts give us access to different types of genres/tastes that we miss because of our personal interests.

    I also totally agree about Mia…I feel like in order to ascribe any motivation to her (of the sort that scarlett describes above), we’re required to add interpretation based on countless other characters of her “type”. That’s not fair to the audience and it’s not fair to the possibility that a character (a woman, natch) in that situation has specific, unique individual reasons for getting involved in a crappy situation. Whether or not “evil temptress” is an accurate description, the point is that she’s been slotted into a “type” role, and all other information we have about her is based on our own experiences/observations of others of the same “type”, not on her being anything other than cardboard.

    It’s lazy writing, and it’s the kind of lazy writing that far more frequently gets applied to female/POC/queer characters than to het white male ones. Why should we have to draw on all this extra information all the time in order to flesh out complete human beings from the characters that look like us?

    (she asked rhetorically, recognizing that this question is 90% of the point of writing on this site in the first place…)

  7. says

    Okay, honesty to on now, because you just shook loose some nuts and bolts in my emotional framework, Beta. While I cannot imagine how/when I would go about “dating” again or looking for a new female interest if (God forbid) my wife were to die, I have to admit I would at some point do so…because you’re 100% right, there is a loneliness factor there.

    Despite all the societal structure of “a woman needs a good man”, I’d tend to say a man needs a good woman a lot more. Maybe that’s part of why patriarchy puts in “artificial” reasons for women to need/rely on men…to make them need men as much as men simply need women, for love/companionship/what have you.

    I just got to remembering how I felt before I met my wife, and thought, “wow, imagine that again”. It would be different, because I’d still have the memories and attachment to my wife, even in her absence…but yeah, in addition to (and possibly warring with) the feeling of “not having that one person”, there would be the feeling of “not having ANYONE”.

    I wonder what causes that? Is it because guys don’t tend to form strong emotional bonds between other males? I mean, I have my brothers and a few good friends, but I discuss/reveal things to my wife that I never would with them. *goes to ponder some more*

  8. says

    Despite all the societal structure of “a woman needs a good man”, I’d tend to say a man needs a good woman a lot more. Maybe that’s part of why patriarchy puts in “artificial” reasons for women to need/rely on men…to make them need men as much as men simply need women, for love/companionship/what have you.

    I firmly agree with this. As wives started being defined less as property and more as unpaid household workers, our pop culture suddenly started pushing the idea that women are all desperate to get that engagement ring, and poor men just get suckered in. And yet in that same pop culture, it always works out and the men and women are all happy. So basically, the men are getting suckered in to exactly what they wanted all along, without ever undergoing the vulnerability of having to express themselves. Men never have to say, “I need a wife! I’ve got an emotional clock ticking!” because we’ve programmed women to freak out for them. That’s how I see it, anyway.

    there would be the feeling of “not having ANYONE”.

    I wonder what causes that? Is it because guys don’t tend to form strong emotional bonds between other males?

    That’s a good question. Let me know what you come up with. It seems to me that generally, women can (and do) do without men a lot more easily than men seem to do without women. But that might not be anything to do with the nature of women; it could be that in our hierarchical society, the people who are lower on the totem pole learn to make do with what they have, whereas the people who are taught a sense of entitlement to have whatever they want cope less easily with lack. If that makes any sense – what I’m saying is, if women were “on top”, it’s quite possible the whole gender situation would reverse.

  9. MaggieCat says

    Men do tend to leap into relationships more quickly than women after being widowed. While this is a very common anecdotal observation, I’ve also seen stats that indicate on average men get involved in half the time it takes women to start again after losing a spouse.

    Completely anecdotal evidence but from my own observation here: after my father died, it didn’t take particularly long for my mother to start dating again- probably somewhere between 6 and 8 months. (I can’t be too specific since I had just had surgery when he died, so I spent the first couple months on painkillers so my timeline is a bit fuzzy there.) They’d been together for over 20 years and my father had been in various states of ill health for most of it, but it was still very sudden when he actually passed away. However if it had been the other way around, I’m pretty confident that my dad wouldn’t have ever married again, and dating would probably have been fairly unlikely as well. Because they had/have completely opposite personality types: my mother is an extrovert who simply does not function well alone- I’ve seen her try and it isn’t pretty- while my father was pathologically shy and where I inherited my introversion from. (Frankly, I’m still amazed that they wound up together.) So depending on the type of personality the character had been established to have, I could actually buy winding up in a relationship relatively soon, especially given this comment:

    In the beginning of the film, also right around the 15-minute mark, Daniel explains that he and his wife had “…a lot of time to prepare for this moment.”

    for whatever it’s worth. Again, my mom had a lot of time to prepare for the idea- she’s mentioned that when I was born she knew there was a chance she could end up raising me alone- but it still managed to be totally sudden when he died. She was a mess for the first couple of months, but eventually wound up out there again.

    (Note: I haven’t seen this movie because despite my love of all things with Alan Rickman or Colin Firth, I cannot stand Keira Knightly.)

  10. Maren says

    Re: Mia

    If you watch the deleted scenes on the DVD Mia has a conversation with her good friend who owns the art gallery (whilst unwrapping the practically poronographic Christmas display paintings) and she reveals that she has some guilt about the whole affair and thinks that she might be doing something ‘evil’ but that she’s not too torn up about it because she considers it a lark; something fun to make work more interesting and perhaps prove something to herself in a non-committal situation (she doesn’t want him to leave his wife).

    Just FYI.

  11. SunlessNick says

    I wonder what causes that? Is it because guys don’t tend to form strong emotional bonds between other males? - Spartakos

    Perhaps it’s that’s society offers more definition to males’ relationships, by which I mean more precisely defines what is and isn’t supposed to be included in them (as a side effect of considering males’ relationships to be more significant and worthy of attention than females’).

    So by missing out one relationship, a man ends up missing a piece of his emotional spectrum – and because men are conditioned to think they’re entitled to everything, feels like he’s missing everything – meanwhile women are “coming out ahead” just by getting to have relationships of their own at all, so they make those relationships cover more ground.

  12. scarlett says

    In response to Maren’s comment, that’s how I saw Mia, just something she was doing for a lark wuthout any real malice in it. I really can’t remember much of the movie, but I think it would have been much better being played that way rather than as 2D as people are saying it was.

    Having said that, the biggest issue I had with the movie is that there were so many storylines in it, it was hard to invest anything in anyone before the story changed.

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