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Trite, banal and offensively stereotypical
I was hoping for an evening of light, quirky entertainment... but what I got was trite, banal, and offensively stereotypical.
Hector begins his journey as a dull, geeky fellow caught in a rut, who wants to see the world, have an adventure, and find himself. The first thing we learn, the moment he steps on the plane, is that without any process of transformation he is actually a party animal and the world's best friend. He goes from stuck in a rut to receiving gifts from billionaires and having parties thrown in his honour for passing through a village. He travels the world noting down greeting- card homilies as if they were the secret to happiness, only to find, to no-one's surprise but his own, the true secret of happiness right back where he started.
All of this would be fairly harmless, though hardly thought-provoking, if it were not for the fact that his journey is rife with cringe- worthy racist and sexist stereotypes.
The people Hector meets and the places he visits are unimaginatively stereotypical, and the lessons he learns are simplistic. China is a place of strange and exotic beauty (and sex tourism). Tibet is a place of wise, jolly monks. "Africa" (a huge and diverse continent!) is depicted in an offensively stereotypical and downright racist way as a place of violence, despair, corruption, and wildlife, populated here and there by simple, poor, happy villagers (who are also up for a bit of sex tourism). Then onward to Los Angeles, where for women, happiness apparently has to do with bearing children -- sorry for the spoiler there, ladies!
Somewhere on line, no doubt, one can buy posters with Hector's lessons on happiness typed neatly below pictures of beautiful sunsets. You know the kind. It's a disappointment that in this movie you couldn't aim any higher, Hector.
Love Actually (2003)
A fabric woven of happy and sad threads
What I appreciated most about Love Actually was that for the most part, it realistically looks at relationships happy and sad, successful and unsuccessful, with a future and without. It addresses different forms and levels of love, sometimes straightforward and carefree, sometimes complex and contradictory. There are schmaltzy happy moments and touching sad ones, moments of great strength and moments of foolish weakness. The movie is made up of many threads, and of course some threads are stronger than others.
The most interesting parts of Love Actually are the times when it addresses the tragic situations where love is self-sacrificing, contradictory, or fragile. One character's unrequited love is revealed as a noble sacrifice made for another's happiness (the method of finally achieving closure and moving on, however, could only work in the movies). Another character is shown to be caught between conflicting duties that will, we are led to believe, prevent her from ever being truly happy. And the strength that a third shows when love is shown to be fragile and her world collapses around her is tragically inspiring.
These noble, tragic threads are interwoven with lighthearted comedic ones to produce a fabric that holds together well. While some characters have to fight for their love, others have simple, happy, straightforward relationships, with love (or whatever) falling in their laps like a parcel from Santa Claus. And the purely comic moments, like Rowan Atkinson's appearances and Hugh Grant's Christmas-caroling bodyguard, are delightful in and of themselves.
There are of course plenty of nits to pick. Hugh Grant doesn't make a very believable Prime Minister, and even his very pointed speech to his American counterpart -- especially relevant in light of Bush's recent state visit to England -- don't redeem the odd casting. Others in this forum have commented on the number of fat jokes in the film, and while I agree, I feel I should point out that the entire point of the first such joke is that the character who has fallen for the "fat" girl clearly doesn't think of her as fat, and doesn't understand at first who the other is talking about. It's true that calling her fat is ridiculous; she's only large in comparison to Keira Knightley, who must be carrying some vital organs around in her handbag because there's certainly not enough room in her torso! But that one time would have been enough; the "fat" theme gets tiresome later on in the movie. I also agree with those who have said that much of the nudity is completely unnecessary to the plot, and that at least some of the comedic threads in the movie are formulaic and unoriginal.
In the end, I feel that Love Actually is for the most part a thoughtful and entertaining look at relationships, which does not shy away from taking the bad with the good.