Dec 22

“Love Actually” Is All Around: A Holiday Favorite

Love Actually is irresistible. You’d have to be Ebenezer Scrooge not to walk out smiling. Claudia Puig, IFC Center

And now, instead of walking out smiling, you can smile in your pj’s and never leave the couch.

Although I agree with the above review excerpt, when Love Actually was in theaters in 2003 it actually received a lot of negative reviews. But that hasn’t stopped it from becoming an enduring favorite of many.

Perhaps you’ve seen the often parodied “cue card” scene. One of my favorites is from SNL following Hillary Clinton‘s presidential election loss to you know who. It’s called “Hillary Actually,” starring Kate McKinnon, and still today rings bitterly sweet, funny, and so relevant:

For Those Who Haven’t Seen Love Actually

Set mostly in London in the five weeks leading up to Christmas, Love Actually features a bunch of interconnected stories with a theme of—you guessed it—love, actually. And there’s an old song by The Troggs that figures prominently, “Love Is All Around,” that one main character, a recording artist, adapts for the holiday.

Written and directed by Richard Curtis, the film boasts lots of big names—Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy, Keira Knightley, Laura Linney, and Alan Rickman among them.

More from Claudia Puig:

Among the better scenarios are Grant as a bachelor prime minister who is too busy to look for a wife. He surprises himself (and everyone else) by being smitten with a down-to-earth staffer (Martine McCutcheon), a slightly more full-figured gal than average. There’s an unexpectedly bittersweet bond between the luminous Keira Knightley and her husband’s reserved best friend (Andrew Lincoln). And for tearjerking moments, no one can beat Thompson’s performance as the stalwart wife of the straying Rickman. A Christmas Eve scene showcases her talent for comedy, pathos and pluck, all the while breaking our hearts.

The sum of Love Actually is greater than its parts. The film is bookended by shots of ordinary people affectionately greeting and tearfully seeing each other off at an airport. The device is a bit forced, but ultimately touching. The same could be said for the movie as a whole, which winningly demonstrates that despite all odds, love is indeed all around us.

If you’re in the mood for Love, actually or otherwise, I believe this movie is worth it. I’ve seen it twice myself.

Roger EbertChicago Sun-Times: “The movie’s only flaw is also a virtue: It’s jammed with characters, stories, warmth and laughs, until at times Curtis seems to be working from a checklist of obligatory movie love situations and doesn’t want to leave anything out.”

Oct 20

“Pride” Movie: So Many Reasons to See This Uplifting Film

In the new Pride movie, based on true events, United Kingdom mineworkers are assisted by gay activists during a lengthy union strike in 1984. The film was directed by Matthew Warchus and written by Stephen Beresford.

I think it’s best not to know a whole lot else about the film before going in. So how’s this for staying broad and general? Rex Reed, New York Observer: “In Pride, lives are changed, values are shared, and the best instincts of the human race are revealed, in one of the hippest examples of liberating enlightenment ever seen on film.”

But just in case you want me to be a bit more specific than that…

Who’s in the Pride movie?

To name a few stars, there’s Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, and Dominic West.

The theme?

David Denby, New Yorker: “The question the movie asks is: What is solidarity?”

Odie Henderson, “The title ‘Pride’ comes to mean different things for the film’s characters. For some, it’s pride in their achievements; for others, it is pride in who they are or what they have become.”

The tone?

Charles Gant, Variety: “The U.K. has a history of mining gold from stories of personal growth rooted in traditional communities, notably the fictional ‘The Full Monty’ and ‘Billy Elliot,’ and it’s this tradition that has brought forth ‘Pride’…”

David Denby, New Yorker: “…(I)n general, the picture is short on politics and historical context (there’s almost nothing about the strike itself) and long on comedy, sentiment, and music.”

How is the gay community portrayed in the Pride movie? The nongay community?

Dave Calhoun, TimeOut: “The ‘gays’, as the Welsh call them, are led by young Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), loud and determined. Those at his side in Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) include barely out Joe (George MacKay) and a couple, actor Jonathan (Dominic West) and his more meek partner Gethin (Andrew Scott), for whom a return to Wales holds special meaning.”

Odie Henderson, “The 80’s era paranoia and misinformation about AIDS haunt the proceedings, as does the danger of being out and proud in a hostile environment. The fear of identifying and associating with people whom society rejects is always in the background, as is the fear of familial rejection because of one’s identity.”

How do women fare? 

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: “Unsurprisingly, the women of the community are the least threatened by the outsiders, among them feisty, salt-of-the-earth Hefina (Imelda Staunton), progressive thinker Sian (Jessica Gunning) and Gwen (Menna Trussler), a sweet old dear who greets them with joyful curiosity.”

Mark Kermode, The Guardian: “…(A)ll the best lines [go] to the working-class women whose indomitable spirit equals and outdoes that of their embattled menfolk.”

Will you like it?

Dave Calhoun, TimeOut: “It’s a joyous film, full of love and warmth but unafraid to admit that with sticking out your neck comes struggle and sorrow. Truly lovely.”

May 22

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”: Challenges of Retirement

In the new film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (For the Elderly and Beautiful), seven British retirees—one couple and five singles—are looking for something different than what they can find in their own environment and fall for the allure of falsely advertised accomodations in India. It turns out that the young man running the hotel, Sonny (Dev Patel), does have a sincere dream to rehab it into a classier place—it just isn’t anywhere near there yet. In the meantime, his idea is to find seniors from other countries who might desire a less expensive “outsourcing” of their retirement.

Probably the best part of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the excellent ensemble cast that includes Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, and more. But there are also notable moments of charm, wit, and romance as each individual struggles to move forward in his or her life despite serious obstacles, e.g., loss of a spouse, serious health and/or financial problems, etc..

Mary Pols, Time: “…a charming celebration of aging. There are brutal truths about the declining years in Best Exotic, from loneliness to financial woes that can’t be solved by getting a new job, but they are amply padded with comedy and cheery messages about acceptance; this is no bitter pill to swallow.”

The trailer for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel:

Best line, said repeatedly and with attempted cheer by Sonny: “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not the end.”

Some Pertinent Reading

Retirement expert Nancy K. Schlossberg was asked in an interview, What do we need most for a happy retirement? She stated:

We need to matter. It is important for people to believe that they count in others’ lives. The loss of the challenge of the work itself, the relationship with colleagues, the connection to an environment, an office to go to, and the daily routines can leave people wondering whether they matter anymore. We all need to figure out ways to bolster our own sense that we count.

Her book Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose (2009) offers helpful tips for those seeking to make retirement a more fulfilling experience.

Gene D. Cohen, MD, PhD, Director, Center on Aging, Health and Humanities, The George Washington University: “Concepts like the Psychological Portfolio, reflecting a depth of understanding and wisdom, take you on a positive journey in relation to personal identity, purpose, and relationships. This book is not about making the best of, but creating the best in retirement.”