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 21

“You Should Have Known” Basis of “The Undoing”

Based on the novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, David E. Kelley‘s six-part mini-series The Undoing premieres Sunday on HBO Max. Stars include Nicole Kidman—as a therapist—and Hugh Grant as her husband.

As some people like to read it before seeing it, this post previews the book. But first, a little background about author Korelitz: her mom is a therapist, who apparently “always brought home cautionary tales to my sister and me about not believing what someone tells you. She went to great pains to get us to understand that just because someone says something doesn’t mean it’s true. We all want to believe that someone is telling the truth – especially if we’re attracted to them” (amny.com).

And thus, main character Grace Reinhart Sachs is a New York shrink whose new nonfiction self-help book is You Already Know: Why Women Fail to Hear What the Men in Their Lives are Telling Them.

Richard Fitzpatrick, Irish Examiner, about this book-within-a-book:

Grace’s thesis is that women delude themselves when picking men. They’re blinded by the need for narrative — to save the man, or that they’re ‘already the heroine and here comes my hero’. They fail to read their self-deception, unwilling to notice the signs that tell them an embezzler, a liar, or a womaniser stands before them.

Grace herself is in a long-term marriage to Jonathan, a pediatric oncologist; they have a 12-year-old son. From the publisher, additional info:

…(W)eeks before the book is published a chasm opens in her own life: a violent death, a missing husband, and, in the place of a man Grace thought she knew, only an ongoing chain of terrible revelations. Left behind in the wake of a spreading and very public disaster, and horrified by the ways in which she has failed to heed her own advice, Grace must dismantle one life and create another for her child and herself.

Publishers Weekly breaks it down further:

The novel’s first third offers readers an authoritative glimpse into the busy-but-leisurely lives of private-school moms. Grace does her best to get along with the school’s vapid and catty fundraising committee. She eventually learns that one of the mothers outside her social strata, Malaga Alves, was found murdered in her apartment by her young son. Grace, already tense and sad from these events, becomes more and more anxious as Jonathan, at a medical conference in the Midwest, proves unreachable over several days. The author deftly places the reader in Grace’s shoes by exploring her isolation, unease, and contempt for the rumor mill.

Selected Reviews of You Should Have Known

Maureen Corrigan, Washington Post: “It artfully combines wit and suspense into an irresistible domestic nightmare.”

John Harding, Daily Mail, asks a pertinent question or two:

Would such a high profile therapist really not be having – and indeed never have had – therapy herself, or regular supervision of her work by another therapist? And surely her professional expertise and intuition would have led to clearer understanding of her own marriage?
That aside, though, it’s a very entertaining read.

Susan Dominus, New York Times:

Korelitz manages to pull off the contrivance that Grace, having written an entire book about blind spots, could be so spectacularly sabotaged by her own: The advice book is understood as the clanging of an alarm, the product of Grace’s own subconscious raging to be heard. In contrast, the novel’s resolution feels surprisingly neat and tidy for a story about the messiness of the mind.