Dear Mr. Orr,
We need to talk. I’ll grant you that Love Actually may not be the best example of a romantic comedy, but I won’t support your hyperbolic assertion that it’s the “Least Romantic Film of All Time.” Also, you really struck a nerve when you said that watching the film as a part of a Christmas tradition is “utterly insane.” Really? I know people who watch Gremlins every year. Or Die Hard. I could also write you a treatise on why kids should never, ever be allowed to watch the chauvinistic tripe that is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But I won’t.
I suppose I should feel more trepidation about writing a dissenting opinion to someone’s who’s been published in The Atlantic, but I was raised to believe that “Opinions are like a certain part of the human anatomy: everyone’s got one.” If you can show yours, then I can show mine. *rolls up sleeves*
In some ways, it’s hard to put my finger on exactly why your article ticked me off so much. I actually agree with you on many of the finer points: there are some disturbing elements in the story. These aren’t whitewashed love stories. In fact, they hit several of my angry buttons: adultery and casual sex, among them. I normally CANNOT abide a story about adultery. It’s one of my things. Normally, I would have no use for Colin’s quest to get into an American woman’s pants. And, yes, I want to smack Laura Linney’s character, Sarah, soundly. Perhaps, the greatest injustice done to this movie was ever attempting to market it as a romantic comedy. It is romantic—I’ll get to that in a minute—and it has comedic moments, but Love Actually is just as much about harsh realities and tragic endings as it is about joyous beginnings. In short, it’s simply…a movie. And it tells several stories that are woven together exceptionally well with scraps of ideas and new discoveries that come to the viewer each time they watch the movie—and that’s a large part of why I think the film has become a Christmas tradition. You can loathe it all you want, Mr. Orr, but Love Actually is here to stay.
First, let’s tackle your assertion that this isn’t a Christmas movie because it’s “not a movie about peace on Earth and goodwill toward men (or, for that matter, about what toys Santa will be placing under the tree).” Who said those were the criteria for a Christmas movie? Someone has put Bad Santa on a list of the best Christmas movies of all time! There’s your travesty. Please do work on that—Billy Bob Thornton has, quite possibly, scarred me for life thanks to that movie. As a writer, here’s my answer as to why Love Actually is a Christmas film: Christmas drives almost all of the plots and subplots in some way or another. The Christmas play with lobsters at the Nativity features prominently. It’s through a Christmas card that the Prime Minister finds out that Natalie feels for him as he’s felt for her thus leading him to find her. It’s arriving home at Christmas that tells Jamie that he would really rather be in Portugal. It’s planning the Christmas party that leads that evil assistant (grr!) to hit on Harry. And it’s in buying her a Christmas gift that Harry messes up BIG TIME. It’s Christmas that leads washed up rocker Billy Mack to remake a song and make his crazy request that people make it a hit. Several characters reference Christmas as the impetus they need to express their feelings: Mark tells Juliet on his signs that you tell the truth at Christmas, and Natalie includes in her card that “if you can’t say it at Christmas, when can you, eh? I’m actually yours, with love, Natalie.” You can make a lot of arguments about this film, but I don’t think you can question its relationship to the Christmas season. People can make a tradition out of anything they like. Maybe we’ll start watching Nightmare Before Christmas at both Halloween and Christmas just because it might give you a twitch.
Now, let’s talk about your assertion that Love Actually is “anti-romantic” and that it
“offers up three disturbing lessons about love. First, that love is overwhelmingly a product of physical attraction and requires no verbal communication or intellectual/emotional affinity of any kind. Second, that the principal barrier to consummating a relationship is mustering the nerve to say “I love you” – preferably with some grand gesture—and once you manage that, you’re basically on the road to marital bliss. And third, that any actual obstacle to romantic fulfillment, however surmountable, is not worth the effort it would take to overcome.”
It’s a movie.
Not a textbook.
From a writer’s standpoint, let me assure you that a movie in which Harry and Karen sit down and talk about their “ennui” and figure out how to overcome Harry’s MAJOR MESS UP would be boring. A movie in which Daniel and Aurelia learned Portuguese first and then learned about each other would also be dull. Movies take liberties that we mere mortals can’t take in our relationships. If people are looking to movies as a primer for how to have a healthy relationship, then we have larger problems at work here. That said, there are plenty of noble and romantic themes in Love Actually, particularly once you rewatch the movie. When you watch the movie a second, third, tenth time, you already know the bad and good, and you can focus on just being.
First, one of the most heartwarming stories is that of John and Just Judy. Their scenes undercut your argument in a big, bad way. They talk constantly and find an ease with each other despite being in the preposterous predicament of simulating sex acts. If that doesn’t serve as a metaphor for the general process of falling in love, I’m not sure what does. Moreover, I have a beef with your take on the Prime Minister and Natalie. She wins him over the minute she accidentally curses. And, yes, I’m well aware of your problem with references to being overweight/appearance in the film, but I find it absolutely endearing that the Prime Minister is so smitten with the unpolished and utterly real Natalie that he says, “Oooo, would we call her chubby?” and that he offers to assassinate her old boyfriend for saying she has thunder thighs. As a woman, let me assure you that having another man offer to kill the former boyfriend who’s dissed you? Romantic. Whether you like it or not, Mr. Orr, totally romantic.
Let’s get to one of your biggest gripes: Jamie and Aurelia. Okay. His proposal is far-fetched. That said, I love how the movie goes to great lengths to show them communicating even when they’re talking past each other. For example, Aurelia’s telling him he’s getting chubbier every day even while he’s saying he has one of those metabolisms where he never gains weight. Put aside your problem with all of the weight references for a minute, and tell me that doesn’t sound like an old married couple. Better yet, the pages all go into the pond, and she’s saying it had better be good, and he’s saying not to put herself in danger because it’s not. On one level that conversation works as humor. On another, it shows him having a revelation about his work. It’s later when they’re in robes and blankets that they figure out a way to communicate despite the language barrier. And, yes, earlier he stops to admire her in her underwear. Physical attraction is a part of love, and Love Actually wouldn’t be the first—nor will it be the last—movie to exploit that easy visual of falling in love. Sarah and Karl’s story relies heavily on the physical also, but you can’t deny it’s romantic. Who can’t relate to having a crush on someone and finally, finally acting on it? (More on that heifer in a minute)
Any way you slice it, Love Actually stirs up romantic feelings. The audience wants to believe in love at first sight for Jamie and Aurelia. We root for John and Judy. We relish the fact that a powerful leader is willing to go door to door on the dodgy end of a street in order to find the woman he has a crush on. We feel that bittersweet twinge when Andrew admits his unrequited crush on Juliet and sigh for him when she gives him one kiss so he can get the closure he needs as he walks off saying. “Enough.” We grin when the little girl points at Sam and when she gives him a kiss at the end. We feel better for Daniel when he runs into Claudia Schiffer because he’s been broken, but he’s triumphed in his relationship with Sam, and the appearance of the woman he’s referenced and that his wife has blessed is a symbol of hope that he will learn to love again. In spite of myself, I’m even amused by how Colin finds a sort of “love, American style.”
Now. There is tragedy in Love Actually. Emma Thompson’s performance as Karen is heartbreaking. Her and Harry’s love is one that’s damaged, perhaps irrevocably. And Sarah? We all want to shake her for choosing to take that phone call from her brother. In the end, she makes the choice to hold Karl at arm’s length, bringing the audience down in one of the most depressing moments in the movie. I remember, Mr. Orr, your talking about how obviously the brother’s phone calls aren’t enough to keep her from holding down a job and thus shouldn’t be much of an impediment. This is one of the “obstacles” that you reference. Guess what? Some people do give up on love at the first sign of an obstacle, and this reminds us that love may be all around us, but we have to be willing to accept it.The presence of these two stories as well as the decidedly not romantic story of Billy Mack and his manager is the reason I don’t classify Love Actually as a romantic comedy. This mish mash of messy threads is also the reason why I think this movie endures, much to your chagrin.
Love Actually is about love. The movie itself, despite the marketing strategies of the studio that produced it, never purports to be about romance. The Prime Minister says, “If you look for it, I’ve got the sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.” Not perfect love. Not romantic love. Just love. I would argue that the success of the movie is due, in large part, to how the unsuccessful love stories remind us of just exactly how difficult it is to find true love. They counterpoint all of the supposed easiness you see in the film. As I sit on the couch with my husband each year, we squeeze each other’s hand when the good happens. He hands me a Kleenex when the bad happens. Those bad stories are a catharsis very similar to how George Bailey has to see how shitty the world would be without him before he could see he really has a Wonderful Life.
We need catharsis. Christmas is, in many ways, about the ability to start over. If you’re a Christian, you’re reminded that a crazy virgin birth means that you can say you’re sorry and really mean it then try your darnedest and keep starting over despite your own mortal failings. Even if you aren’t a Christian, Christmas is wrapped up with the New Year, a symbolic time for starting fresh and trying to be a better person in the year to come. Love Actually is about starting fresh. You may think the movie is all about saying I love you, getting busy, and getting married, but it’s just about getting started. The movie never promises you the whole tale of happily ever after. And, to bring into sharp relief the almost sacred nature of beginnings, the movie has to show you some endings, too. I don’t have to agree with the characters or their choices to enjoy the movie. I will, however, argue that Love Actually is a powerful movie with powerful characters or else their predicaments wouldn’t stick in your craw so much.*
In essence, Mr. Orr, I kinda think you’re mainly steamed that this movie you panned managed to find not only success, but that elusive bugaboo endurance. In the spirit of the season, let it go. I’m never going to understand the popularity of Avatar or 50 Shades of Grey, but I also don’t feel the need to write a scathing post that says the people who do enjoy these things are “utterly insane.” I will, however, respond when you diss one of my favorite Christmas movies. Because love is all around us, dammit. It’s not perfect, and it’s not always enough, but it’s there, we need it, and it’s a start.
*And Love Actually means enough to me that I spent a couple of hours I shouldn’t have writing this response. We’ll call it a writing exercise, and I’ll be okay with it.
P.S. Richard Curtis may have written the screenplay for Bridget Jones Diary, but the novel was by Helen Fielding.
P.P.S. Hugh Grant makes a good Primer Minister, and Sam is not any more precocious than my own crazy kids. Oh, and the soundtrack is awesome in its cheesy goodness. So there.
I was already planning my gratitude post, and that one will come later. In the meantime, I think my excitement can be best expressed through scenes from Love Actually.
This was me getting the call! (See Laura Linney)
And this is me right now!
Oh, yeah! It’s a big damn day.
I thought it was just my family that routinely broke ornaments until I was talking to my friend Janette yesterday. She was telling me about how she’d calmly and patiently endured two ornaments breaking, including a very special Newport one. When Rhett Butler came up headless, though, she had to draw the line. (For anyone worried, Rhett has met Superglue and now has his head on straight. Tomorrow really is another day.)
Last year–or was it year before last–Ryan and I dropped one of the Disney ornaments we got on our honeymoon. It was a very sentimental piece. Until we looked at replacement options on eBay. Hey, we still have each other. In the meantime here are some classics from the Kilpatrick Family Holiday Wounded:
1. Griffey. Oh, Griffey. His foot broke off many moons ago, and Ryan tossed it before I could glue it back on. I don’t really blame him because the healing process for ornaments can take months. Sometimes I only get them glued back together a few days before the tree comes back out. I like to think of having a broken ornament on the counter as a little reminder of Christmas all year long. Either that, or I’m lazy. Take your pick.
2. We were doing so well with our *cue Shrek voice* donkey. Alas, now he cannot hear what you hear.
3. Neither can Mickey.
4. Poor Piglet has lost a leg. I don’t know where or how or when. But I’m sure he’s frightened.
5. Cruella De Vil has also lost a leg. Somehow I don’t feel quite as bad about this.
6. Success! Baseball Santa’s ankle broke, but after some gorilla glue and a short time on the DL, he’s back on the tree.
Poor, poor Kanga. She’d already lost two ears, and this year she lost part of her tail. I think Ryan and kids decided not to put her on the tree, however. She was injured this year in the Great Frosty Ball Crash. Frosty fell taking Kanga and Baseball Santa down with him. There are no pieces of Frosty for me to show. Like Humpty Dumpty, he shattered.
What about you? Have you lost any ornaments this year? Or in years prior? Toss them with reckless abandon or keep them hanging around as a lesson to other ornaments who dare fall from the tree?
So I’m supposed to be packing, but then I realized I hadn’t written my blog post for the week. Now, I could be good and write a post about gratitude, but I’m thinking that would be a better topic for next week when I have two minutes to rub together. Today, let’s talk about packing with kids.
First, as I pointed out yesterday, if your kids are home from school you need to take the time/money/noise level of each activity and multiply by three. I would like to add a corollary to this: your children will ask for food at least five times each task.
Today’s bugaboo? Video games. I’m coming to hate them the same way I hate gum. Nothing like having to tell someone to stop doing something a bajillion times to make you hate it. First I was all
Then five minutes later when stuff was still exploding and children still weren’t listening, I was
And finally, I lost my ever-loving mind and went all
And to give you some perspective I’ve been interrupted three times just in the five minutes it’s taken to type the prose of this piece. Now, I gotta run and pack ALL THE THINGS because its winter–make that four interruptions–and that means three times as many layers. We gotta work on this beaming business. Where are you, Scotty?
P.S. Make that five interruptions (just before adding gif 1)
P.P.S. Make that six interruptions (while proofing the post)
P.P.P.S. So what if I pack a flask for this trip?
P.P.P.P.S. Make that seven interruptions while I double-checked proper postscript format. I’m outta here–have a great week wherever you are!
This magazine is taunting me. Look at the cover. 48 Ways to Maximize…Organize your Tech, Desk, and Papers Today….15 Clutter Busting Products Under $20….
Nowhere on the cover did it suggest it was going to be all about the Ultimate Pantry or the Ultimate Laundry Room. I’m looking for real solutions for real people, Better Homes and Gardens!
Prepare to be amazed by the Ultimate Laundry Room….
Oh, look. Here’s a blueprint since they can’t get all of the laundry room in one picture. (And, yes, I kinda covet that hand sink. Meh. I don’t hand wash enough for one of those.)
Time to keep it real complete with The Hobbit’s outgrown shoes, an empty water bottle, and the lint I need to pick up.
But you know what? Their laundry room doesn’t have what my laundry room has….
Take that, Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications, Storage edition! Ha!
As I sit here in sweatshirt, sweatpants, and snuggie, I thought I’d pay homage to my father, the man who taught me everything I ever needed to know about the weather. Growing up, I thought his weather expressions were common knowledge in every household across the nation.
Since some of you out there weren’t privileged enough to learn these sayings, I’m going to present them here so you’ll know what I’m talking about and won’t think I’m off my rocker. Well, so you won’t think I’m any crazier than usual. Oh, and be forewarned, these can get a little spicy.
As he explained it to me, cold weather comes in degrees. The mildest chill is best expressed by
It’s colder than a well digger’s butt in January.
That’s cold, but it’s not as cold as
Cold enough to freeze the tits off a boar hog.
Even colder still?
Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.
But my favorite? Sometimes I’ll be talking to Daddy, and he’ll say, “Well, you’d better bring in your well diggers, boar hogs, and brass monkeys tonight.” That’s shorthand for “It’s about to get real. Things are going to freeze all up in here.” Sometimes he’ll add a witch to that list, but I’ve never really been able to figure out where this one fits in the hierarchy
It’s colder than a witch’s titty in a brass bra.
I don’t know. That’s an unspecified cold. Maybe a cold that sneaks up on you, kinda like a witch might. Oh, and bonus points to this post at the Examiner for a new phrase that I hadn’t heard before but will definitely be adding to the repertoire:
It’s colder than a cast iron outhouse on Christmas Day.
Over the years, I’ve tried to figure out why I know so many more cold expressions than hot expressions. My conclusion? Heat is such a matter of fact in the South that the only thing worth noting is when it’s actually cold. Also, we southerners are more used to the heat and not quite as tolerant of the cold–if you don’t believe me announce that snow’s coming and watch the grocery store run out of milk and bread in a matter of seconds–so we have to complain about the cold more. Nevertheless, I have a few hot weather expressions that you can put in your pocket and save for July.
It’s hotter than blue blazes.
That’s the tamest one and often leads to
I’m sweating like a sinner in church on Sunday.
Some people like to substitute “whore” for “sinner,” but that’s just not alliterative enough for me. And the only heat expression I remember my father using
It’s hotter than a bitch wolf in a pepper patch.
I’m assuming the wolf is feeling randy and the peppers are jalapeño or perhaps habanero.
Here’s the last one, I’ve heard this one elsewhere but it wasn’t in common usage at La Casa Rowlett
It’s hotter than two rabbits screwing in a wool sock.
I gotta give ‘em points for creativity, but I don’t think I’ll be adding that one to my rotation.
Now, some of you are all indignant about now. You’ve thought to yourself–maybe even said out loud–that’ is not how it goes! It’s supposed to be a billy goat’s butt in that pepper patch! Or maybe you thought, those are supposed to be rats getting busy and it’s supposed to be a sack!
Well, I have to tell you the beauty of the English language is its versatility. Even better? We southerners improvise and change our expressions to reflect the world around us. Sometimes it gets a bit ambiguous, but it’s the beauty of language, and probably one of the contributing factors to how I became an English major. So, carry on! Use your expressions and change them up as you go along. Leave me some comments with your favorites, and, for heaven’s sake, bundle up and bring in your well diggers, boar hogs, brass monkeys, and witches cuz it’s getting down to 25 degrees tonight.
P.S. I totally think Daddy missed his calling. He could’ve been Jim Cantore before Jim Cantore was cool.