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DaltonMaltz

Episode 134 - Love Actually (w/ Michael H. Weber)

Episode 134 - Love Actually (w/ Michael H. Weber)  

44 members have voted

  1. 1. Should "Love Actually" enter The Canon?

    • Yes
      12
    • No
      32


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Screenwriter Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer, The Disaster Artist) joins Amy this week to discuss the 2003 romantic comedy “Love Actually.” They discuss how the film succeeds as a mosaic of interlocking stories and why it adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Plus, Michael shares some of the moments on his “Yikes” list before they assess the movie’s charm and take a deep dive into the many plot threads of “Love Actually.”

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Remember the recent meme going around "what's the the most trivial hill on which you are willing to die?"

 

Love Actually is my hill.

 

I love this movie, and have loved it since I first saw it in the theater. I still watch it every Christmas, my longest Christmas tradition.

 

Love Actually does something you almost never see in a romantic comedy: it interrogates love. The mosaic of plots isn't just about hitting highlights of several romantic comedies all in one film, it is about exploring different aspects of the ways that people love one another. The romantic comedy genre often puts love into cookie-cutter patterns and doesn't let it be as messy and weird as it is in reality. Then Love Actually breaks out of those patterns to reach for something more, only to get attacked by people who think that it must be doing the cookie-cutter patterns wrong. (Most of the critiques of the Andrew Lincoln/Kiera Knightly plot are especially guilty of this. Sometimes love is something that you need to get over, and the end of Lincoln's journey isn't when he confesses everything to Knightly, or even when she kisses him, it's when he walks away and says "enough".)

 

Also, c'mon Michael H. Weber! Why would Billy Mack and his manager kiss? That's obviously not what the film was going for with the love between them. They clearly have a Sam/Frodo love. (Which is also why the manager's apartment would seem like a shrine to Billy Mack. Most likely every one of those posters is of a project that the manager made happen.)

 

Love Actually gets underestimated because it has such a fluffy, holiday-movie facade; I think that it has the most keen insight into humanity of any Christmas movie since It's a Wonderful Life.

 

Fight me.

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There are sometimes, very rarely, a guest brings a film to the Canon where I don’t understand why. Nothing against Mr. Weber, but why?

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Well, this was an amusing episode. The guest brings a movie in that he must have considered a worthy nominee, and yet the entire conversation is about how virtually every subplot of the movie has creepy and noxious sexual politics somewhere in it. So why does the movie work anyway? "It's charming." I mean, doesn't that make the horrible politics of the movie even worse, that they've been given such a nice-looking sheen, the better to worm their way into the audience's subconscious? Isn't this just the movie version of the story where the British guy goes to America and the women fall all over themselves for him because he says terrible pickup lines with a British accent? That's what this movie is: terrible half-baked romantic comedy subplots that seem charming because they have British people in them.

 

I was never a fan of Love Actually, but I always wait to hear the podcast arguments before finally deciding on my vote. Occasionally (as with Top Gun) I am actually swayed by the arguments to vote against my original impression of the movie. This is one time where I come out liking the movie even less. The only question is whether to vote "No" or "Hell No."

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I don't hate romantic comedies. I'm not even immune to the charms of some of Richard Curtis' past work. (i remember being quite taken with FOUR WEDDINGS & A FUNERAL and NOTTING HILL) But I really really hate LOVE ACTUALLY. The idea of it is phenomenal. I love the juggling of a grand ensemble that carefully balances a dozen or so stories into thematically linked vignettes. And it certainly helps that there may not be a single weak link in this entire cast. But the stories themselves? I detest almost all of them. I remember going to see this movie, not even on opening day, but on a special preview night weeks before its release. That's how excited I was to see a new movie featuring Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, and the like. I was desperate to be swept away and filled with Christmas cheer, but I found the film to be so ugly. Much of what I could rant about has already been covered. Particularly how numerous storylines are centered around sexual harassment or infatuation by male employers. Worse than that, the Laura Linney story about a woman that the movie claims doesn't deserve to be happy because she has a mentally ill brother to take care of. This is really the view of Linney's character herself, but the film seems to endorse it. And don't get me started on this Andrew Lincoln creepy gesture that we're supposed to find romantic. There's ugliness at every turn in this movie. I remember the audience laughing and even applauding when the president was revealed to be... Billy Bob Thornton? And for what? So he can be devoid of comic charm and merely harass an innocent girl? What a waste. I'll concede that I find the Martin Freeman storyline amusing (though the nudity in this otherwise obvious PG-13 toned film is oddly off-putting). At least it's a one joke premise with a decent joke and is resolved neatly at the end. The other storyline I like is one of the stupidest. It's the story of Kris Marshall who is determined to go to America because he knows that a sure fire way to get good and laid is to be the sole British accent in a sea of American stupidity... and it works! That's a funny idea, but it's also a perfect metaphor for this movie. Would American audiences still be so charmed by this movie if it were packed with a cast akin to NEW YEAR'S EVE or VALENTINE'S DAY? Probably not. But fill your cast with Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, and such, and people will swoon for it, falling for the thin charm of a talented accent reciting garbage. Look. I understand the cultural relevance and love surrounding this movie. But part of the deal I made with myself when I voted for THE ROOM earlier this month was that I was going to draw a line and stop voting for bad movies that have made some kind of sole cultural splash, for better or worse. I have argued with friends and family countless times against this movie and I'm going to do it one final time here. I vote NO on LOVE ACTUALLY. Whether it be for Holiday Movie or Romantic Comedy, we can do so much better.

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The guest, who supposedly is there to support Love Actually, really sells it as an bad movie throughout this episode. The supporting points he makes for its inclusion in the Canon actually reinforce what I’ve always thought about this movie, which is that it’s a turd of a film.

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Love Actually is such a phony, bullshit film; a genuinely childish and hammy look at love with some really horrible sexual politics and a thousand loose ends... but I was never bored by it. Richard Curtis is trying his absolute damnedest to warm our hearts, and much to my chagrin, it sometimes works. I still think it's a bad film, but not the torturous experience I expected.

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For all the talk about how supposedly inescapable this film is, I managed to escape it all this time without any conscious effort on my part, so I can now blame Weber for getting me to watch it. I suppose it might be impressive to juggle that many storylines, and to Curtis' credit he didn't throw in a hail of frogs, but I don't actually think it does add up to "more than the sum of its parts". Maybe you can't argue with someone's taste reduced to "it's so charming", but I wasn't charmed. I suppose I might be more cynical than average, but over the same holiday weekend I was able to derive some enjoyment from The Shop Around the Corner, and that's had many more decades to get out of date.

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I find comedy difficult as it is really subjective as to what makes a good comedy. In general, romantic comedies mix sentimentality with the comedic elements; not my cup of tea generally speaking. That is compared to, say, horror comedy, or pure silly comedies like much of Mel Brooks' output or Monte Python. I like much of Richard Curtis' television programs: Vicar of Dibley and Blackadder are really great! But this movie? I think the premise is kind intriguing and watching the movie, I guess I get it, but whatever lofty goals on the movie sets out to achieve fall flatly. The acting is fine, the look and feel of the film works well enough (Christmas!), but I put it on the script. It all starts with the script. All problems mentioned eloquently by others, this this is an ugly, problematic monster gussied up.

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One more thought: I wonder if this would have worked better on television as a miniseries. Curtis' work there is far greater than his silver screen output. Maybe the longer format of a BBC series over several seasons, or even a single one, would have made this better (plus a writer's room). That would have also included Howard Goodall composing the music, which would be a godsend compared to the schlocky musical dump that the movie has.

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Look props to Michael for trying, but c'mon... Literally, he wasn't even all in on his own vote, being a "soft yes", and it seemed he was really only able to talk about the bad and problematic, and in his own words his yikes list was longer than the list of things he admired about it. That, in my book, makes this not canon. Also the fact that not only is it extremely weird (not in a good way) and problematic, but there was nothing even remarkable about the technical stuff, the shots, the direction, the lighting, the sound, not a thing. Sure I guess it is an accomplishment that they could accomplish a "mosaic" of stories, but if the stories don't really matter, does anything really matter?

 

If you want a movie in this same ballpark, take Death at a Funeral. If you want a movie with multiple storylines take Magnolia, Pulp Fiction, or Chunking Express. You guys said in the podcast why this movie doesn't need in the canon, and I'm just finalizing it with my vote. No. Sorry, not sorry.

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Richard Curtis' sensibilities are inherently puerile, which is why his identikit romantic comedies have aged so poorly. I continue to be amazed that the co-creator of Blackadder (a parade of brilliantly brutal insults and dick jokes) is now in a self-imposed purgatory, creating endless insufferable kooks faffing around in a depiction of London that's little more than a racist delusion.

 

Love Actually getting into the Canon should trigger a full-blown existential crisis in everyone here.

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It would have been a long shot anyway, but I call mistrial. Rather than a prosecution and defense, this one had two prosecutors.

 

We just heard in the American Psycho podcast that we ought to be more used to protagonists with imperfections. If we can get through the murderous impulses of that move, we can certainly apply a slight bit of forgiveness here. Also, the funny thing about the fat jokes of the movie are more about the pettiness of the ones saying the jokes rather than the intended (non-fat) victim. As a result, I feel the movie isn't so much about the cheap insults, but of humans' ability to forgive the petty imperfections of others.

 

Also, I'm not sure there's much use in calling out problematic behavior every time we see it -- especially in movies such as this. I don't think a movie about perfect people behaving perfectly all the time makes for a worthwhile Canon movie. Divinity may be our goal, but I doubt it's that compelling to observe. The movie needs those "yikes" moments so we can find the kindness oasis between them.

 

If nothing else, this movie could be considered Canon-worthy for starting the intersecting holiday story trend (actually 200 Cigarettes may have been before, but whatever). In the meantime, the genre hasn't been improved upon. It may not be a favorite movie overall, but as a movie that started the genre, it should be heralded for not be dethroned by something better. Surely something should have come along by now if Love Actually didn't succeed for what it is.

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We just heard in the American Psycho podcast that we ought to be more used to protagonists with imperfections. If we can get through the murderous impulses of that move, we can certainly apply a slight bit of forgiveness here. Also, the funny thing about the fat jokes of the movie are more about the pettiness of the ones saying the jokes rather than the intended (non-fat) victim. As a result, I feel the movie isn't so much about the cheap insults, but of humans' ability to forgive the petty imperfections of others.

 

I'd argue that a film like American Psycho uses an unlikable protagonist to make a point about modern society, toxic masculinity, capitalism, etc. It knows its protagonist is a bad person and builds that into the narrative.

 

I see no such self-awareness in Love Actually.

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Love Actually has maybe one or two storylines that I find entertaining. For the record, those are Bill Nighy's part, and the bit between Martin Freeman and Joanna Page. The rest are cloying, lazy, and fall somewhere on the spectrum between overly saccharine and actually kind of creepy (looking at you Andrew Lincoln). The movie should be called "Love, Not Actually" for all it's examples of relationships that are actually either love falling away, simply crushes, lust, or just an improper basis for anything more than a first date.

 

Another good title might be "Heteronormative Caucasian Love Actually".

 

Also, those two kids are just too overly precious and I don't find them charming or cute at all. Not even a little bit. I guess I have an aversion to children who are falsely "wise beyond their years". There is certainly something to having a child give unintended sage advice, but this one is just too much. No thank you.

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Yeah, American Psycho makes a much different (and sure, possibly more interesting) use of an unlikable character, but I don't think that means it's the only movie allowed to have characters who are less than perfect. I still maintain one of the points of the movie is to find compassion in spite of the imperfect actions of petty characters. I feel like people behaving the way I see people behaving IRL is presenting a setting and not necessarily a message.

 

Love Actually is a casualty of this problematic character argument and is definitely not getting in. Still, I'd love to have at least heard other arguments, criticisms even, beyond just troubling character quirks.

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Love, Actually is two pretty OK short films surrounded by a bunch of sloppy, contrived writing that feels like a first draft. Liam Neeson: good. Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson: good. Everything else: unbelievable, fake, contrived, goofy.

 

I kept waiting for a good explanation for lots of things (like the scene in Superbad where the cops reveal they knew McLovin was fake the whole time) but never got it. Why a lobster? Why do the Americans go so crazy over the accent? No reason at all, just contrived writing.

 

This movie is like The Big Bang Theory of Christmas movies: lowest common denominator pap.

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I have voted yes. I love the characters and the very British humour. That being said, this is more of a protest vote against all the flak the movie is getting here.

 

It is a bit like Monty Python's And now for something completely different. Great entertainment, but not necessarily great filmmaking. Both films work as a collection of jokes and scenes.

 

Loving a movie shouldn't automatically mean it is qualifed for The Canon.

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Happiest of holiday seasons to forum readers, and the firmest of "no"s to Love Actually!

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I had been wanting to participate in discussions a few weeks ago, but because of Christmas etc. I always kept putting it off... Too bad, I would have loved to give a German perspective on the satire in "Starship Troopers", now "Love Actually" is my starting point...

 

Anyway, I am really disappointed with this episode. If you choose to boost a film for the canon then don't keep constantly arguing against it. Acknowledge its weaknesses, but don't keep referring to them all the time.

 

I voted "yes" for the canon, even though I see the movie's flaws as well. But many of the things mentioned in this review I do not see as "yikes". I can see people being mad about the female representation, but if you watch the movie you cannot tell me that these things come from a negative place on part of the makers of the film.

 

To be honest, I do not see the characters as representatives of their gender, but of character types, though I completely realize that as a man this is easier for me to say (As an aside, this is also why I don't mind not remembereing the characters' names). This is especially true for the Laura Linney character. Sure, Carl is a weak character and watching it,  you get frustrated that, should he be interested in her as well, he cannot be a bit more understanding. But this story arc is not about him, it is about her. It does not matter how good a person he actually is, it is about a woman who is constantly putting her own needs behind those of her brother and can only find happiness in projection. That is why this story arc is so incredibly sad and a great addition to a film with so many other kinds of versions of love, lust and longing.

 

I also wonder what you are worrying about when it comes to the discussions between Liam Neeson and Thomas Sangster. Yes, they are a bit uncomfortable, which they are meant to be. The sexual frankness is played for a (squeamish) laugh, but still, these two characters can only build their bond of trust through this openness. It is not even Neeson who pushes the sexual element into the discussion, it is mostly Sangsters characer who signalizes that he is ok with talking openly about these things. The only thing I really struggle with is that you never really see Sangster's character dealing with the death of his mom. This factor is brushed off in the discussion very easily.

 

 

I have to admit, I almost lost it, though, when you started talking about the Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Heike Makatsch -story arc. Really,  people! Yes, Makatsch is shown in her own home in her underwear putting on the necklace and yes, her entire character is VERY on the nose, but still... this one shot of her is not misplaced in contrast with the shot of Thompson. I find it fits perfectly. The contrast of these two small scenes, connected through the Mitchell-song, gives me a real punch to the stomach. Sure, the shot of Makatsch is stylized, but it is not unbelievable. And the way she moves into focus and sits down in front of the mirror and admires herself shows everything she represents in contrast to Thompson in her own bedroom. The shot might not even be reality, but only what Thompson is picturing in her head. Nitpicking about the probability of the shot instead of discussing its purpose in connection to Thompson really misses the point.

 

And don't get me started on the final scene. I find it strange that  American critics more than those of any other country that I read reviews from, love to point out things that are too spelled out for them,  but whenever there it vagueness they point out perceived unexplained plot holes. To be honest, I do not even see real vagueness here. Everything in the scene is more or less clear, it is just not directly spoken out. Look at Thompsons forced smile, the way she allows him to give her a small kiss (just the fact that he even attempts to give her a small kiss). What does she say? "Good to have you back" (not very believable) and then "Come on.....home." Of course they have not seperated. She is doing the same thing this woman probably has always done in her life and which she has done at least once before in the movie (in the bedroom scene), she decides to push through it and put on a smile and to keep up the appearance of normality. I am really wondering how you can even question this. The one thing the movie leaves open is whether or not this approach, which is actually quite common, will be successful in the end.

 

I cannot really add anything positive to the list of things your guest mentioned, although he mentioned them all too briefly. The cast is great, most of the stories work, the scenes that work well, work especially well. I just want to stress two small points:

 

Whatever the flaws of the movie may be, it has a perfect structure. Even if you don't like a story you don't have to agonize over it for too long, because in a moment or two we will visit another story arc that you probably like better. The movie is crafted in a way that you get an emotional climax almost every ten minutes and because of the multitude of stories and the skillful way they are interwoven you get swept along. I honestly think that the backlash against the movie that has started a few years ago is because of "fridge logic". "love Actually" is supposed to mostly work on an emotional level, all of Richard Curtis' films do. When you watch the movie for the first time, you just get swept along by it and because of its precision it is almost impossible to see the cogs in the clockwork. The movie manages to swipe away many smaller and even a few bigger improbabilities through this and accepts that every viewer will probably still have his or her one or two moments which they find a tad bit too unbelievable. It is only through multiple viewings that you really get to see how it all works and that these previously barely visible flaws become bigger. And then it depends on how much you believe the movies good intentions and the general talent of the people involved

 

Lastly, I think it is a great Christmas film, because it manages to swipe away all the baggage that is associated with Christmas movies and only deals with the FEELING of Christmas, the feeling even atheists can enjoy. In that way it is then as flawed as most Christmas movies in one way or the other are, but it is, as the avclub once put it, a great Christmas movie "for the rest of us". And therefore it does belong into the canon as a truly unifiingChristmas movie.

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i cant possibly agree to this movie becoming cannon. i dont even understand how it has become "popular". aside from some good performances (thompson, rickman, grant, and unusually knightly) and some good will towards writer/director curtiss, this movie has very little going for it. its stories are mostly either idiotic, reprehensible or downright miserable. and being reasonably well interwoven (which admittedly takes some skill as a director) does not make them good. its "iconic" lincoln/knightly scene is a terrible tale of a man trying to ruin his best freinds marriage, this is hardly great christmas sentiment. the soft yes of your guest is a hard no for me.

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A definitive NO for me - but I do think Love Actually was an appropriate holiday ending to the Canon's Toxic Masculinity December Film Series (The Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday, Carnal Knowledge, American Psycho). A perfect cap on the end of cringe-worthy year with its own seemingly endless yikes-list.

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