Dec 07

“Love Actually”: Holiday Favorite Back in Theaters

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

And now, 20 years later, you have the opportunity to leave your couch-based streaming and return to a theater to see the better-sounding, better-looking re-issue—and walk out smiling. It includes a 10-minute pre-show consisting of interviews and various tidbits about the film’s creation.

Surprisingly, when Love Actually initially entered theaters in 2003 it received a lot of negative reviews. That didn’t stop it, though, from becoming an enduring favorite.

If it’s not something you’ve seen already, perhaps you’ve seen the often parodied “cue card” scene. One example (from SNL) followed Hillary Clinton‘s presidential election loss to you know who. It’s called “Hillary Actually” and stars Kate McKinnon—and still today rings bitterly sweet, funny, and relevant:

The actual movie scene spoofed above involves Mark (Andrew Lincoln) coming to the home of the wife (Keira Knightley) of his best friend and has been called “the stalker scene” by some viewers. Writer/director Richard Curtis now sees how problematic it is (The Independent).

“He actually turns up, to his best friend’s house, to say to his best friend’s wife, on the off chance that she answers the door, ‘I love you,'” Curtis said. “think it’s a bit weird. I mean, I remember being taken by surprise about seven years ago, I was going to be interviewed by somebody and they said, ‘Of course, we’re mainly interested in the stalker scene,’ and I said, ‘What scene is that?’ And then I was, like, educated in it.'”

More Info 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.

Many big names, including Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy, Laura Linney, Billy Bob Thornton, and Alan Rickman, star in Love Actually. In addition to the misgivings about the cue-card scene, Curtis has also recently stated: “The lack of diversity makes me feel uncomfortable and a bit stupid” (USA Today, 2022).

Additional info regarding the film’s dynamics and flaws from a recent review by Francesca Carington, The Guardian: “Many of the plots reward underdogs, which is cheering; the majority of them foreground a male perspective, which is not…(M)any of the things people object to now were raised by critics in 2003. Too hetero, too many fat jokes, too many relationships between a man and his female subordinate, too American, too cloying, too many plotlines. It’s unlikely the opening reference to 9/11 in support of Curtis’s manifesto that ‘love, actually, is all around’ went down much better 20 years ago than it does now, either.”

Love is actually all around, however, and this is an appealing feature. “The multistranded-ness of the film contributes, in part, to its longevity. While the saddest subplots – those with Thompson and Linney, crestfallen, open-hearted and magnificent – are indisputably the best, the portrayal of the many configurations of love rewards repeat viewing.”

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.”

Jul 02

“Tales of the City”: Logical Family (Of Friends)

In 1994 the United States wasn’t ready for author Armistead Maupin‘s Tales of the City on TV. Tales mixed LGBT characters with non-LGBT in a created family of friends—what Maupin calls in his memoir a logical family. “Sooner or later, though, no matter where in the world we live, we must join the diaspora, venturing beyond our biological family to find our logical one, the one that actually makes sense for us. We have to, if we are to live without squandering our lives” (Logical Family: A Memoir).

“…(A)fter six highly successful episodes, PBS chose not to renew the show almost as soon as it had begun in the face of vigorous conservative opposition” (New York Times).

The sequels since then have fared better, though. And now a new televised reboot has entered the scene. This Tales of the City is introduced below by Kathryn VanArendonk, Vulture:

The sweetness and sincerity of the original series has returned in the Netflix revival, as have many of the original cast and characters. Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis reprise the roles of Mary Ann and Anna Madrigal, as does Paul Gross as Mary Ann’s former boyfriend Brian. There’s also Michael (Murray Bartlett), a cheerful gay Barbary Lane resident from the original series, and his new boyfriend Ben (Charlie Barnett), as well as a new set of younger characters, including Brian’s daughter Shawna (Ellen Page), young queer couple Margot (May Hong) and Jake (Josiah Victoria Garcia), and a brother and sister pair of social media influencer types (Ashley Park and Christopher Larkin). As in the original series, the makeup of Barbary Lane residents is meant to reflect San Francisco at a certain moment in time — older people, younger people, all with shifting ideas of what identity means and how the world works.

Tales of the City has its origins, of course, with Maupin’s newspaper columns, then his books. Following are a few representative book quotes that highlight the benefits of having both a logical family and a strong sense of individuality and independence:

I’m not sure I even need a lover, male or female. Sometimes I think I’d settle for five good friends.

The answer is that you never, ever, rely on another person for your peace of mind. If you do, you’re screwed but good. Not right away, maybe, but sooner or later. You have to…learn to live with yourself.

My life is full of love; I designed it that way. I try to make my own experience about love and I look for kindness in others. That’s the thing I value the most: it will get you through everything.

On a related note, a lot of LGBT folks face difficulties coming out to their biological families. In order to clearly convey one’s identity and what it means, therefore, many a heartfelt letter has been composed. Maupin’s own coming out letter, published in 1977 (San Francisco Chronicle) as though it were written by gay Tales character Michael Tolliver, recently received an emotional reading by stars of the new Netflix series. See it (and weep) at this Dorothy Surrenders link.

Nov 04

“Kinsey”: Human Sexuality Research Before Masters and Johnson

Before Masters and Johnson (see last week’s post on Masters of Sex) was sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, who wrote both Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953).

Although I can’t personally vouch for the new series now on Showtime, I can for Bill Condon‘s biopic Kinsey (2004), in which the famous sex researcher is played by Liam Neeson and wife/colleague Clara by Laura Linney. She’s “Mac” to him; he’s “Prok” to her.

Kinsey’s first line in the movie, “I’ve been reading up on gall wasps,” clues us in that he was an insect academic at Indiana University before veering into the study of human sexual practices. Why’d he make this transition? One reason is that he was bugged (pun intended) by what passed as sex education in those days.

Too, having been raised by a moralizing father (John Lithgow), Kinsey had no use for judgmentalism. David Edelstein, Slate: “The movie boils down, for me, to a single, endlessly reverberating phrase: ‘Morality disguised as fact,’ which is what Kinsey thinks of sex education in the late 1930s.”

So, from gall wasps to a course on sexuality in marriage he goes—and it’s a big hit with the students. The university president (Oliver Platt) then supports Kinsey in his plans to study men’s sexuality, which is aided by several male assistants (Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton, and Chris O’Donnell).

Below you can see the trailer:

THE ERA

As noted by critic Roger Ebert, in Kinsey’s era “it was more or less universally agreed that masturbation would make you go blind or insane, that homosexuality was an extremely rare deviation, that most sex was within marriage and most married couples limited themselves to the missionary position.” He continues: “Kinsey interviewed thousands of Americans over a period of years, and concluded: Just about everybody masturbates, 37 percent of men have had at least one homosexual experience, there is a lot of premarital and extramarital sex, and the techniques of many couples venture well beyond the traditional male-superior position.”

THE MAN

Roger Ebertrogerebert.com“…Kinsey was an impossible man. He studied human behavior but knew almost nothing about human nature, and was often not aware that he was hurting feelings, offending people, making enemies or behaving strangely. He had tunnel vision, and it led him heedlessly toward his research goals without prudent regard for his image, his family and associates, and even the sources of his funding.”

Desson Thomson, Washington Post: “While he’s advocating freshness, freedom and sense in the public arena, Kinsey is mired in moral questions at home. He explores his homosexual side with one of his assistants, much to the shock of Clara, and he encourages sexual experimentation among his followers. Is he the liberated man he asks others to be? What exactly is liberation? Kinsey finds himself caught in the endless conundrum of life.”

THE COUPLE

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times: “Ultimately, ‘Kinsey’ comes down to Prok and Mac, a prickly, not-always-likable but profoundly believable couple going through their own sexual revolution and living to tell the tale. In the end, they walk in the woods, still enthralled by the natural world that first drew them together. ‘It’s impossible to measure love,’ the man who helped America understand sex tells his wife. ‘When it comes to love, we’re all in the dark.'”

ONE CONCLUSION

A.O. Scott, New York Times:

I can’t think of another movie that has dealt with sex so knowledgeably and, at the same time, made the pursuit of knowledge seem so sexy. There are some explicit images and provocative scenes, but it is your intellect that is most likely to be aroused…

In undertaking his sex research, Kinsey set out to document what was normal, and discovered a universe of variation. In publishing his findings, he horrified some readers and titillated others, but the implications of his work, as presented in this humane and serious film, go far beyond mammalian physiology or human behavior. Each of us is different, and none of us is alone.