So this viewing came about because I wanted a real Christmas movie for this Trash or Treasure, and I couldn’t think of a festive film I’d rather not watch. This isn’t because I want to be edgy, but because most “touching romantic comedies” are filled with unlovable psychopaths. I then realized I really didn’t want to watch it, and you’d need to pay me £100 to do it. So the readers of this column did, and it’s going to charity and that’s the only reason I don’t regret watching two hours and fifteen minutes of raw trash.
Now, I appreciate that this was a very popular film and that many people love it. This is because it signposts how you should feel at every moment of the film and the hype around it was constantly telling the audience how good it was. I’m not saying that if you like it you are wrong, I’m saying that you’re in an emotional hostage situation if you meet any of the characters in real life you’d tell them to seek professional help. And there are characters aplenty because Richard Curtis decided that two dozen cardboard cutouts crammed into a script means you’ll never have time to be bored, annoyed, or worried by all of them. He also decided to use streams of singular, unchained swear words as comedy, resulting in what feels like RADA reading Viz’s Profanisaurus. He, or some producer, also opted to reduce Rowan Atkinson to a bit part of mild amusement, rather than the framing device it so desperately needed. Instead, it’s just people who know people going through very small plots.
The relationships are, except for two, basically awful. Spoilers; one of them, Colin, isn’t even in a relationship but is just an awful person who can’t get laid, who ends up going to America to get laid on the basis of having an English accent and stumbles directly into a fivesome with a bevy of ridiculously attractive women. Then you have John (Martin Freeman) and Judy, who are stand-ins on a set that apparently involves them getting fully naked. Some people may get off on Hobbit cock, but mostly it’s just bizarre in a creepy way. But at least they talk to each other because so many of the relationships are about True Love being found, not via communication.
Jamie is a writer who just got cuckolded by his wife and brother, so he moves to France and falls mutually in love with his Portuguese housewife when neither of them can understand what the other is saying. David is Hugh Grant The Prime Minister, who is willing to declare diplomatic war with America because President Billy Bob Thornton makes a pass at the tea lady he wants to shag (Martine McCutcheon), but not actually willing to say “fancy a drink” so fires her for what is obviously Billy Bob’s dickery. But it’s okay because she’s madly in love with him so sends him a “come get me” Christmas card and they hook up like horny teenagers.
Meanwhile, for real intensity, we have three stories that aren’t so much tales of love as clinical case studies. Bill Nighy is an aging rocker who makes it big by releasing a naff Christmas Number 1 and being slightly rude to Ant and/or Dec, and then apropos of nothing confesses his true love to his manager. It’s presented as some declaration of closeted gay love, but seamlessly moves into pally-comradery just before it can get even slightly interesting. Elsewhere the two acting heavyweights, Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson are in a loveless marriage where Rickman has a minor flirt, Thompson has a breakdown, and then they decide to stay together even though everything is obviously awful for both of them.
But, for pure romantic bliss, you want Mark The Stalker.
Played by Andrew Lincoln, Mark’s is the real unspoken love. Much like how Jason Voorhees isn’t known as much of a talker but still hits the ladies dead. His best mate just got married to Juliet (Keira Knightly), a woman he saw once, fell in complete love with, and then decided to never talk to, but make lots of videos of her, consisting of extreme closeups of her face. Somehow she isn’t worried by this, to the point that when he turns up on her doorstep, objectifies her, and then buggers off, she runs outside to give him a kiss. All this while her husband/his best mate, is still in the house. I really don’t know what other warning flags she needs, but obsession and emotional manipulation really shouldn’t be presented as sexy.
The two relationships that aren’t awful are split between sad and happy. On the sad front, you have Sarah, who finally gets off with the bloke from work that she fancies but then gets cockblocked by her brother repeatedly ringing from a mental health facility. Her paramour then leaves the relationship, possibly because he wonders why such a violently disturbed person is allowed unrestricted access to a mobile phone. On the happy front, Liam Neeson gets over the death of his wife by having unnecessarily graphic conversations with his tween son and then falling in love with Claudia Schiffer whose kid also goes to the same school. Okay, so that relationship is quite nice and goes through some real discussion about what love is. It’s probably the most honest, decent, and realistic bit of the whole film. Other than the bit where the kid runs through Heathrow airport security to declare his undying love to a school chum and doesn’t get tazed for it.
The overall effect is to show a series of people I can’t give a toss about, going through relationships that should either be dead in a ditch or will be dead in a ditch in three months, and just failing to hit any real emotional moments whilst virtually holding up signs telling me how I should feel. The comedy isn’t comedic, the tragedy is too heavy-handed and called-out to make me care, and the romance is either mildly “awww, bless”, forced and inconclusive, or “run, run now!! Get away from him!!”. There’s nothing to say about the rest of the production either, as it’s just a series of bland and tame whatever, where nothing exciting or unexpected is allowed to happen, for fear that the audience may not keep up. Even Bill Neigh doing Top of the Pops naked, falling flat on its face, lightly landing the joke and then rushing it away with vague embarrassment or fear of overstimulating the viewer.
That this was then seen as a meaningful romantic movie just shows how deeply screwed our vision of the ideal relationships was in that period, and how twee simplicity could be taken as any kind of moral or emotional guideline. That it’s still popular now shows that we haven’t moved on much at all. Had they cut out half the relationships and put in a decent through the story it could have been interesting, but instead, it’s like someone let a scatter-gun off at a greeting card wholesaler.