Imagine my surprise. Love Actually actually is a delight. As the opening monologue relates, the prevailing wisdom in our world is that hatred and greed run rampant, overshadowing anything decent about humanity and its intricate relationships. But when we stop and look around us, it's amazing how much love there really is- among friends, partners, family, and even colleagues. Just watch the arrivals at the airport to see the joy we bring one another. When faced with corporate scandals, bullying nations, and desperate terrorists, we too often we overlook the daily graces of life. Yet they continue...and even abound...for many of us. This film explores such graces through a multiplicity of relationships: a man (Neeson) and his stepson; an aging rocker and his manager; the new Prime Minister (Grant) and one of his staff; an aging, successful businessman (Rickman), his wife (Thompson) and his would-be mistress; a cuckholded man (Firth) and his cleaning lady; an artist struggling to adjust to his best friend's marriage; a woman (Laura Linney) torn between her commitment to herself and her commitment to family.the list goes on and on. Like the intricacies of our lives and commitments, many of these plot-lines overlap.
Admittedly, in spite of the challenges of their relationships, these characters spend vast amounts of time in the lap of luxury, enjoying privileges unknown in large sectors of society. Without a doubt, they're delightful eye-candy. Even so, like the rest of us mere mortals, they face personal challenges, disappointments, and even griefs...none of which are trivial...or trivialized. But somehow these characters survive...with plucky courage, humor, and even joy. In a world full of despair and degradation, Love Actually offers signs of hope both for creative transformation and for good's triumph - at least for those who can afford it. Julian of Norwich would've loved it: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
And a number of things in Love Actually actually are well. Near the beginning of the film we witness a wedding between a white woman (Keira Knightley) and a black man (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and no one even blinks. Undercurrents abound around this wedding, but they aren't about race. How nice. And while the film doesn't demonize (or, god-forbid, glorify) Americans (thankfully), it does dare to poke fun and even point-out some of our worst failings at present...in an oh-so-polite-but-stalwart British way. How refreshing.
But ALL is not well in Love Actually. For a film of 135 minutes, there are an inordinate number of fat comments-an indication of laziness on the part of the writers who opt for cheap laughs at the expense of any woman larger than a size 6. Driving the film's excessive attention to weight is its sexist undercurrent. Perhaps that's part of the film's appeal - it doesn't threaten or challenge or call to accountability in any way the "traditional" world where men wield power in the public sphere and women are subordinate to them, both in the office and in the home. In spite of the vast variety of relationships explored and the vast talent of the women in the cast, not one of the plot-lines is about a relationship between or among women. Ultimately, all of the stories revolve around the needs, wants and problems of the men in them - the women serve only as foils. Important as the needs, wants and problems of men are, I suspect the women in their world have needs, wants and problems of their own. Sadly, in this film, we'll never know about any of those except the ones that revolve around the men. So although Curtis and Co. envision a world in which persons are judged by the `content of their character rather than the color of their skin,' they fail miserably even to question a world ruled exclusively by men with full support from `their' women.
Like most romantic comedies, Love Actually abounds with the implausible and the outrageous. Such circumstances are part of the fun and easy to forgive. Would that its sexism had been portrayed as equally implausible and outrageous....still, for solid performances and reliable laughs in a romantic comedy, Love Actually actually can't be beat.