How Love Actually ruined Christmas by Gary Raymond
One film, Love Actually, has a particular place in modern film history. Essentially a compilation of loosely linked stories, it is memorable for the well known actors involved, the music and its production by Richard Curtis. This book takes a critical view of the film – not in the sense of a review, but looking at the questionable elements of the film. This includes the acting, the flow of the story, the editing, the implications of the script, and the time scale of the stories. Anyone with a deep affection for the film may find some illusions endangered by this book, but overall it is a fair if hard assessment of the film. Gary Raymond has studied the film with microscopic attention and has asked the questions that many of us have asked. An exceptionally newly married couple are back at work within days. A man whose wife’s funeral is yet to take place is urged to move on. A successful film director is chatting with a man who is proposing to go to America with no more than an interestingly packed backpack in order to seduce women. Why does every attractive woman have to be a supermodel? How traumatised is a young boy who is urged to chase his love, spookily sharing his recently deceased mother’s name? In a scene by scene examination Raymond looks at the film with comments. It is a compulsively interesting book which I admit to reading in one sitting, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.
From the foreword to the book by “a feminist film historian”, Lisa Smithstead, who sees some elements of the film as troubling, through to Raymonds’ summing up of the film’s ending (he does not like it), this book raises the issues that have troubled many of us. There is a strong theme of misogyny in some eyes, some of the comments about women in their absence, the concept of only supermodels being attractive. Women are seen as less than attractive by reason of age, of appearance and crucially, weight, with disparaging comments being made about being “chubby” or overweight. This is true of Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister, who draws attention to his assistant’s figure, or the sister in Europe who is referred to as “dunkin donuts”. Andrew Lincoln’s character can be seen as too desperate even in his use of cards to communicate with Keira Knightly’s confused newly wed. Raymond is particularly worried about the film’s depiction of mental illness, as Michael is seen as an institutionalised, sometimes violent long term resident who interrupts his sister’s work and thwarts her relationship, forcing her to choose between her brother and her long term affection for a work colleague. The whole existence of the John and Judy strand seems of little value except as an opportunity to show naked bodies in elaborate situations.
The whole Harry (Alan Rickman) and Karen (Emma Thompson) story is commented on; with Thompson’s main scene as wronged wife mentioned as perhaps the best acted, while Rickman seems to be baffled as to his much discussed infidelity.
This is a book that is apparently the result of the opportunity provided by lockdown to watch the film intensely. It is a labour of love in a way, or at least a labour of determination to try to discover what it is about the film that makes it so popular despite its air of hurried and inconsistent editing and writing. It is an interesting book for many who have watched the film and pondered its inherent difficulties. It is a criticism rather than a review, but it is a strongly argued book which I found immensely interesting.