Thursday, December 11, 2003

Crude emotional manipulation, actually

Now that he’s abandoned wit and originality and become a factory recycling his self-created stereotypes, there’s something sweetly comforting about seeing a Richard Curtis film with all its predicatable emotional scenarios, middle-class settings, and - of course - Christmas in England.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Love Actually: it was a skilful piece of work, a series of invariably thin stories skating along on the bankable watchability of a talented ensemble cast doing it by the numbers. No surprises, no stretches.

Curtis has an impressive series of “Big England” writing credits to his name, exporting a certain universalised, highly PC, Christmas-Card-Englishness to the world, through films containing just enough American characters (or casting) to be trans-Atlantically marketable.

And he does deserve credit for becoming a “name” in an industry that tends to treat writers as interchangeable, anonymous day-labourers.

Still, key parody points of his scripts that emerged in the Guardian (not reproduced on-line dammit) included, more or less, that in Curtis’ England:

“Bugger” does not mean “sodomise this!”, but is a quaint English expression, acceptable in the politest of circles.

Few English people have proper jobs, and if they do they are endearingly bad at them. There is no incentive to really strive in the British economy when even the owner of a failing bookshop can afford an extravagantly large terrace in Notting Hill.

All social groupings contain at least one person with a disability, one gay couple and one member with a charming regional accent: such friends are highly prized and distributed according to a complex statutory formula.

Men have floppy hair, women floppy jumpers or hats (depending on the season).

It always snows on Christmas Eve, and this is invariably the best time to tell someone that you love them.

All right, it’s easy to throw stones. And I did rather enjoy “Love, Actually”, but it’s not a patch on “The Tall Guy” or early “Blackadder” – the acid has leached from his now fairly saccharine humour. Also, nothing in in this film really matched that one excruciating moment of real feeling in “Four Weddings and a Funeral”: the heart-rending reading of Auden’s “Stop all the clocks”.

The humour here feels like a pretty fresh stab at an old gag, not genuine wit; and some of the storylines in “Love actually” are one-gag sketches stretched over the film (most obviously, the romance between two “lighting models” for adult films who chat, semi-naked or naked, about London traffic while technical rehearsal progress).

The one moment of real poignancy was the Alan Rickman/Emma Thompson pairing: a story of a marriage confronted by Rickman’s blossoming, potential adultery. But otherwise we had the fairly stock performances by the likes of Colin Firth and Hugh Grant that we’ve come to expect. (Grant’s Prime Minister did have some good lines.)

But go on, you know you’ll see it anyway. After all, it’s Christmas.

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