Well, yes: love -- the concept, experience, whathaveyou - is a bit questionable to me. That goes without saying. But I'm talking here about the 2003 film, the one with all those Brit actors and, oddly enough, Laura Linney. It takes place around Christmastime, which would explain why it seemed to be playing nonstop on basic cable this week both here in the States and over in the UK. And it's got all this sort of quasi-screwball comedy-of-errors quality to it, mixed in with good old fashioned unimaginative American-style saccharine family drama, and features Hugh Grant as the Prime Minister, not to mention all of those transatlantic accents, all of which elevates the entire affair to something seemingly more significant and farcical and witty than it ought to get credit for being. Because it's not.
My mother got caught up in it yesterday morning while we were preparing a huge meal for 18 or so guests, for my family's annual Christmas Eve dinner. She couldn't stop talking about Kiera Knightley's luminous, porcelain skin, and about how love in England seemed so cute and droll. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I knew no one in the greater London area who lived in such large, well appointed flats, and that the lone couple there whom I know aren't even entirely British. And that she'd probably disown me if I ended up with any of the older men types in the film (Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth) who chased after women at least 15, possibly 20 years their junior.
And then today -- Christmas Day -- JB over in the UK found himself in front of the television with his parents, watching the same film (seriously, it's everywhere). I probably didn't need confirmation from an actual English family that the whole thing was silly, but I got a mildly irate missive earlier this evening from JB, who produced a much longer laundry list of complaints than I'm going to share here. Suffice it to say that neither of us found any of the romantic storylines at all plausible, English or not.
But JB asked a question that I'm still mulling over (which is giving Love, Actually much more head time than I thought I'd ever devote to it): 50-60 years from now, is this the sort of film that's going to pass as a classic? Is this what passes for screwball comedy nowadays? To put it differently: do we give the screwball films from an earlier era an automatic pass because they're older, and seemingly groundbreaking for their time? Or, to put it very differently: Is Love, Actually ... (gulp) ... timeless? I've got friends -- including an ex-boyfriend, so it's not simply a chick thing -- who love this film. I mean, I get its appeal: it depicts the kinds of potentially complicated love stories that we've all experienced in one form or another (triangles, cross-cultural differences, extra marital affairs, first love, et al) and resolves them in cute, aww-shucks sorts of ways. And sure, love -- that's timeless, right?
But the resolutions occur in such a fantasy world -- and I don't mean simply that with the exception of Alan Rickman (and possibly Bill Nighy, but some might dispute that), everyone is attractive and funny and charming and all that. Rather, it's the fantasy of smoothing over complicatedness by surrounding oneself with the accoutrements of upper middle class existence. In love with your 12 year old American classmate who's about to board a flight back to the States? Well then, why not have stepdad Liam Neeson drive you to Heathrow in his Land Rover? In love with the Portuguese waitress? Become an instant polyglot and tell her so! I'm all for love as a universally-experienced phenomenon, but the only thing that's timeless in this kind of unfolding of love is how we continue to let our delusions about love's mysteries become expectations for how things should be. It's this sort of dreck that undermines our ability to develop full -- and real -- emotional range as interconnected beings. I mean, I don't want to make the obvious pun here, but this isn't love, actually. If this ends up being a classic and 50 years from now my (imaginary) grandkids ask me what it was like to live in a time when people took such daring, risky moves vis-a-vis love like they did in that film, I'm going to shoot someone.
[Update: So KS berated me this morning for not discussing Laura Linney's character's story arc more fully, for it's true -- it's not so cute or happy. She doesn't end up with her longtime crush object. She's got a ill brother. She's sad a lot. But she's also the lone American in the film (I'm not counting the ladies in the Milwaukee sideplot, which is another post entirely), and as such, was forced to carry a fairly melodramatic story arc compared to the much more droll Brit romances at play. It was the strangest contrast, really, and didn't really do much to advance the movie as a whole. A sidelong jab at the US, maybe?]