For the seventh film of Christmas, my true love sent to me . . . a 2003 film that Joe Morganstern of the Wall Street Journal described as being “glib in its feelgoodness. The movie’s many excellent actors do too much acting with too little conviction in scenes that rush through perfunctory setups to deliver pat payoffs.” Claudia Puig in USA Today, however, said that it was “irrisistable” and “that you’d have to be Ebenezer Scrooge not to walk out smiling.”
This was clearly a film that divided the critics – many thought that it was terrible and vented their spleens in their respective newspapers and magazines on its release. Some liked it, but they were in the minority. But, hey, when was the last time you listened to a critic and thought, “Yes, that critic was absolutely right about that that film I have just spent three hours of my valuable time watching. It was a masterpiece.” Critics these days are rarely listened to – and those who do listen to them are people who are easily led. You’re more likely to walk out of a critically acclaimed film these days – something like, say, Mr Turner – and think, “I’ve just wasted three hours of my life watching that meandering, formless pile of old shit. I want my money back!”
The film from 2003 that the Wall Street Journal hated and USA Today loved was, of course, Richard Curtis’ Love Actually and when I watched it with my wife on Christmas Eve of that year, I just couldn’t understand why the critics hated it so much.
Yes, granted, the Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon story was a bit of a flight of fancy – but so what? It was sweet and funny and wouldn’t we all like to have a Prime Minister who had the balls to tell the US President where to get off – even if it was for selfish reasons. When Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister delivered that speech to Billy Bob Thornton’s President the audience in Screen One at Basingstoke applauded. That was a good moment. Not half as good, though, as when I went to see Independence Day in Winchester, where everyone in the cinema stood up and cheered when the aliens blew up the White House. That must have been an uncomfortable moment for any Americans in the audience.
Other stories included Andrew Lincoln and Keira Knightley in a nice little tale about unrequited love. Who’d have thought that nice, well-spoken Andrew Lincoln would end up on US television with an American accent playing Rick Grimes, in The Walking Dead, the most violent and (in my opinion) the best show on TV at the moment.
There’s young love with grieving widower Liam Neeson helping his son (Thomas Sangster) get noticed by the girl he’s in love with.
Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman play a couple whose marriage becomes strained after he buys another woman a present – there’s a beautiful and heart-breaking scene that’s played out to Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now in which Emma Thompson realises her husband may be seeing another woman after she discovers that she hasn’t got the present she had found in his coat pocket.
There’s the two body doubles played by Martin Freeman and Joanna Page who fall in love whilst fondling each other for the cameras.
Laura Linney is in love with Rodrigo Santoro but can’t bring herself to abandon her mentally ill brother.
Kris Marshall goes to America to find love and ends up bringing Denise Richards home with him.
Colin Firth, cheated on by his girlfriend, finds love in the unlikeliest of places with the beautiful Lucia Moniz.
And finally there’s the wonderful Bill Nighy as the old rocker Billy Mack realising that he’s been in (platonic) love with his manager all along.
Love Actually is a film that’s meant to be enjoyed for what it is. It’s entertainment – pure and simple – and I sometimes think that the critics have forgotten what cinema is all about. Audiences for the most part don’t want to see something that’s beautifully filmed and acted but is ultimately depressing, has no story and goes nowhere. They want to be entertained. And this is what Richard Curtis has been doing expertly for years. From Blackadder to The Vicar of Dibley to Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’s Diary, he has been entertaining us, and I, for one, am very grateful to him.
I think (and I may be wrong here – but I doubt it) that critics believe that whenever they feel someone is (in their opinion) getting too big for their boots (which in critic-speak means popular) then they deserve to get a good kicking when their next film is released, especially if it's a crowd pleaser. I think that Love Actually was Richard Curtis getting a good kicking. Nobody can hate a film that much – unless you’re me and the film is Top Gun.
My wife and I watch Love Actually every Christmas. Sometimes we even watch it in July or any other month if we feel like we need cheering up. And that’s what this wonderful film is all about – it’s about making you feel good about yourself and others. Cinema goers quite rightly ignored the critics and flocked to see Love Actually when it was released – and I can honestly say that as we walked out of Screen One on that Christmas Eve in 2003, I didn’t see one person without a smile on his or her face.
Now THAT’S what going to the cinema is all about.