Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Watching the treacly Love Actually, I kept wondering what on earth had possessed me to rent the movie. Well, for one thing, there was the desire to watch something light. Plus the fact that the movie has been written and directed by Richard Curtis, whose movies, so far at least, I've enjoyed. I am not quite sure what Actually's problem really is. The movie is sincere, it's apparent that Curtis is, quite literally, putting himself out on a limb; this is the mushiest movie he's ever written. Its even got a to-die-for all-star British cast with a few token Americans. And the soundtrack is uniformly gooey (but good though) to the point of making one die from an overdose of sugar.

Ultimately though, there's only so much of mush that one can take. Watching no less than nine romantic subplots means that the movie flits from one romantic pair to another. Curtis is no Paul Thomas Anderson - he has no idea how to weave the plots together, to make the tension of one plot flood into another, to make one plot comment on another. Then there's the fact that the characters all speak in Curtisms - in the cute, self-deprecating style (which means blinking charmingly even in the most hideously embarassing of situations) that Curtis has perfected through all these years. But when actors are barely on the screen for more than a minute, it's hard to make a character one's own; the movie has no characters, just props on which to hang it's message that LOVE is all around us.

What happens if a bachelor British prime-minister (and one as foppy as Hugh Grant, no less) falls in love with his, ummm, housekeeper? What would happen if two body-doubles, who make their living by simulating sexual positions for the movie camera, were to fall in love? Could a man and a woman fall in love without even understanding one word of what the other says? It seems to me that Curtis, wrote the movie, with these kind of questions in mind. I enjoyed hte body-double subplot the most even though it has less than five minutes of screen-time. And I kept looking at my watch as Liam Nesson and his consistently slappable son kept having one irritating conversation after another. The other storylines are more or less generic, depending on how much you can stomach the ages old love triangle of the two best friends in love with the same girl, or the happily married couple in the throes of mid-life crisis or the woman professional pining away for her boss.

Which brings me to another point. The portrayal of women in this movie. Two of the romantic storylines involve housekeepers falling in love with their bosses. Laura Linney (who, by the way, is the best thing in this movie) plays a executive meekly in love with her (hunky) boss. What, one wonders, is the message here? The over-all impression of the working female professional in the movie is that of the secretary - no, not just a secretary but a secretary straight from the pages of a Mills&Boon romance (yes, I used to read those) who falls for her boss, a strong bronzed rugged mascular (yes, yes, you name it) alpha-male. I can only presume it's unintentional since a movie like this doesn't set out to offend people deliberately. But considering how successful movies like these are and the fact that they are generally modified depending on how they are received by focus groups, I wonder how much we still like to think of the working woman as a meek, weak, and yes, virginal secretary.

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