The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Love Actually’

This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Regional Editor for RiverTown Multimedia, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “Love Actually.”

The info:

The Movie: “Love Actually”

Starring: Hugh Grant, Martine McCutcheon, Liam Neeson

Director: Richard Curtis

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Follows the lives of eight very different couples in dealing with their love lives in various loosely interrelated tales all set during a frantic month before Christmas in London, England.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 63 percent

Our take:

Froemming: After weeks of non-stop action with serial killer sharks and Tom Hardy wearing weird crap on his face, I decided Brown and I needed to get in touch with our emotions. So I picked “Love Actually,” the bizarre prequel to “The Walking Dead” where we learn Rick Grimes is actually British.

I have never seen this before, and all I knew of it was the Rick Grimes (I will not call him by his character in this film) holding signs at a door to Keira Knightley. Going in, I had pretty low expectations.

Did I like it? That is for the review to tell. All I want to say now is I realized Alan Rickman cornered the market of unconventional Christmas movies with this and “Die Hard.” And yes, I referred to his character in my notes as Hans Gruber.

Before we visit the eight lives of very British people, Brown what are your first thoughts on this?

Brown: So, every famous British actor/actress, with the exception of Gary Oldman was in this movie, right? And if Gary Oldman was in this movie, I’d be concerned because there was a lot of phones in this film.

This is the second time we’ve been privy to with Hugh Grant and Colin Firth in prominent roles. And just like “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” there is plenty of British charm.

But, the problem with it is spelled out in the plot summary: “Follow the lives of eight very different couples…”

There is so damn much going on.

And yes, like most of America (before ratings started to plummet), I can only see Rick Grimes when Andrew Lincoln is on screen.

Why don’t you lead us off, Froemming, much in the same way Hugh Grant leads this movie off: by awkwardly mentioning 9/11 in a monologue.

Froemming: Yes, Grant narrates the beginning, and he does have an awkward reference to 9/11. He also drops the titular line as well, where the Peter Griffin in me chuckled and said “he said it.”

Now, because there is so much going on, I think we should follow what Wikipedia did and give a brief introduction and then tackle the storylines individually, because they really do not connect until the end of the movie, where we are just then being told all these people know each other.

It is five weeks to Christmas, and we get a slice of romantic life in England. Eight people, one of whom would lead civilization against a zombie horde while not being able to pronounce his son’s name, which is  “Carl.”

Brown: Coral.

Froemming: Everytime Lincoln was on screen, I added CORL to then end of the sentence.

Billy Mack and Joe

Froemming: We begin the film with Billy Mack, a washed up rock star who is making a comeback with a blatant cash grab by remaking a classic song of his into a Christmas tune. And, I will admit, I liked Billy the best because he just said whatever and his snark warmed my heart.

Brown: Oh yeah, Billy Mack is the most enjoyable character for snark monsters like Froemming and I.

And, his remake of The Trogg’s “Love Is All Around” made me laugh because his late career is basically being Cartman when he starts a Christian rock band. Like Cartman changing the lyrics to songs from “Baby” to “Jesus,” Billy Mack changes “Love” to “Christmas.” Let’s hope that Billy Mack’s Christmas album earns murr status.

Froemming: Billy and Joe probably has the least actual plot of this film, but their scenes do act as good comic relief among the mundane politeness of British people. So, when Billy mocks his manager as being a fat loser and calls his new single a “festering turd of a record” to a DJ trying to promote it, I looked forward to his screen time the most.

Billy is trying to turn his golden turd of a song to the No. 1 song at Christmas time. He even says he will strip down nude on live TV for this to happen (and he does, we see it when a child is running through an airport, which made me very uncomfortable and question Europe’s views on such things).

Brown: I think Billy and Joe had more of a story than Colin does later in the movie. But we’ll get there later.

Here’s my question: Is it really a big deal to have the No. 1 Christmas hit in England? That seems like a rather ho-hum honor. Especially considering that Billy Mack acts like ‘70s Johnny Rotten throughout this entire movie.

Froemming: I think in England it is. Rage Against The Machine had a viral thing happen a few years ago where “Killing in the Name” became the UK’s No. 1 Christmas song, a fact that still makes me chuckle.

So Billy makes the rounds, mocking his manager and saying crude things on live TV. And because this must be foreshadowing of the 2016 election, he actually wins. He then takes off to a party at Elton John’s where he has an epiphany that Christmas is about being with the ones you love, so he goes back and hassles his poor manager who was just minding his own business.

Brown: Well, Billy Mack discovers that Joe is the only one who stuck with him through thick and thin… I mean, it’s Joe’s job because he is Billy’s manager, but whatever. So Billy brings a bottle of booze and suggests they watch porn together.

Froemming, you’re my boy. But we’re not getting drunk and watching porn together.

Froemming: You say that now….

Look at this creep.

Juliet, Peter and Mark Rick

Froemming: We meet this group of characters at Juliet and Peter’s wedding, where an obviously obsessed Rick Grimes is perving on Juliet via camcorder. That obsession will work to his advantage later in life when battling Negan and his trusty baseball bat Lucille.

Rick is best man and best friends with Peter, a man I feel truly sorry for because his best friend is a real piece of (REDACTED). Makes me truly question if it was karma when Shane eventually hooks up with his wife when Georgia is overrun by the undead.

Brown: I was about to say that Mark Rick works through the weeds to steal Peter’s girl much like how Shane rummages through the muck to steal Rick’s girl.

This, I think, is the least developed of the storylines because nothing is made to make sense.

Like, when Juliet comes to Mark’s Rick’s house to pick up the wedding tape. First, I really hoped that when the put the tape in, Samara from “The Ring” would pop out of the TV. That dream was dashed by a video of Mark Rick doing creepy zoom-in videos of Juliet. It may as well have The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” as the soundtrack.

All it gets is a “I do this out of self-preservation” line, Juliet leaves, and Mark Rick gets all emotional to early 2000s butt rock.

Umm… OK, movie.

Froemming: Then at the end, Rick just shows up with cue cards and a boombox like a weirdo cross of Bob Dylan and John Cusack in “Say Anything.”

Brown: I think I summed it up nicely.

Froemming: Well, Juliet give Rick a kiss and the next we see of him, he is in a hospital bed in Atlanta as Earth is taken over by the walking dead. Pretty shocking twist if you ask me.

Brown: It’s more satisfactory than what actually happens. Which is nothing.

Jamie and Aurélia

Froemming: Now a side story that actually has a beginning, middle and end in this movie, which is pretty much reserved for the famous British actors in this film. Jamie (Firth) is a writer who finds out his wife is sleeping with his brother. How does he find out? He stops by the house, where he thinks his wife is sick, finds his brother there and in the most British way of finding the “bad news” his wife calls out for his brother, and Jamie’s response is not to kick some ass, but politely leave so they can do their business.

This attitude is why the British lost the war.

Brown: What’s any heartbroken man to do when his wife cheats on him with his brother? Why, go out into a rented country home in France and write a murder mystery like you’re Stephen King?

While we’re at it, write on an old-school typewriter in the height of the computer age like some boorish hipster. Computers are helpful, especially for saving backups. You’ll find that out later when a gust of wind ruins two weeks of work.

Froemming: While bordering on a “Shining” scenario in his remote cottage, Jamie meets Portuguese housekeeper Aurélia, who doesn’t speak English. He doesn’t speak Portuguese, so they have a lost in translation sort of thing. But we see that they fall for one another despite the language barrier, even at times making similar jokes as if they understood one another. It borders on maddening at how cute they try to make this. We all know how this would really go: They just sit in awkward silence the whole time, then never see one another ever again.

Brown: The only caveat is that Jamie has to drive her home every night. Otherwise, it’s every socially awkward relationship you’ve seen in a British rom-com. In fact, this movie is chock-full of that awkward British-ness.

Froemming: I prefer my awkwardness to be more Larry David than this. You know, extremely cringeworthy. The British are too polite.

Brown: Did it bug you as much as it did me when there’d be a romantic “moment” in this movie followed by a whimsical flute playing in the background?

Froemming: Not as much as when Jamie’s typewritten notes go flying off the table and Aurélia strips down to her bra and panties and dives in to retrieve them. Jamie for a moment suddenly turns into Brad Hamilton from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and leers are her like a pervert before jumping into the water himself.

Brown: Yep. It’s not a sexual situation. Let’s not make it that way.

I’ll be honest, I was hoping that Aurélia would tell Jamie at one point, “I speak fluent English, you (REDACTED BRITISH SWEAR WORD).”

They love each other, but have the language barrier. So, when he’s done in France, Jamie goes and learns Portuguese and goes to find the love of his life. So much so that he abandons his family on Christmas. Hey dude, your family hates you when you’re just all “Hey, I’m leaving.” Pull a “Good Will Hunting” and say “I gotta go see about a girl.”

Froemming: Hell, even go the “American Psycho” route and tell them you have to return some videotapes.

Brown: Mark Rick can help with that!

Froemming: I saw that guy bite another man’s throat out. He lost his British sensibility once he got to the States.

Jamie returns to France and proposes to Aurélia at her job, where she is a waitress,. I did like the translation for Jamie was in broken English subtitles. And we find out Aurélia has learned English. The two agree to get married.

Brown: An entertaining part was seeing Jamie get to the family’s house, only for them to follow Jamie as he looks for Aurélia. And the whole time, they think Jamie is going to offer them something, like how marriage used to work. I was hoping we’d see a bartering session for Aurélia’s hand in marriage. Alas, I don’t think Jamie’s family were land barons.

Harry, Karen and Mia

Froemming: When not playing matchmaker with his employees against all the warnings from HR, we see Harry (Rickman, or Hans Gruber) has an office flirting situation with his new secretary, Mia. This is another by-the-books story of an older man being smitten by a younger woman. Only this man may or may not have survived a fall from Nakatomi Plaza in the late ‘80s.

Brown: Ready for your mind to be blown?

I think this movie took place in the late ‘80s.

Harry tasks Mia with putting together the Christmas party. And they pick this rather nice building (which is Mark’s Rick’s gallery). Seems like a good deal of money.

Now, where does “Die Hard” take place during? A Christmas party.

My theory: Hans Gruber lived through the fall from Nakatomi Plaza and is going for another Christmas party robbery under the disguise of Harry, a middle-aged man who is on the cusp of cheating on his wife, who may or may not look like Hillary Clinton.

Froemming: Look, Brown and I believe “Die Hard,” “The Walking Dead” and “Love Actually” are all in a shared universe.

The truth is out there my friend. We have connected the dots.

Brown:

Froemming: Anyway, Harry (or Hans) has a humdrum life with Karen and their children, who are probably unaware of his secret life as a terrorist. And the only excitement we see is his flirtation with Mia. Then things start getting more out of line. I knew it was because Karen tells him to be careful with Mia and the next thing we see is Harry at a jewelry counter trying to buy Mia a nice necklace from Mr. Bean, who is also part of this shared universe now.

Brown: I think my favorite sub-plot comes with Harry and Karen’s children, as one of the kids is playing a lobster in the nativity scene in the school play. When they practice the scene, they use Barney the Dinosaur as the baby Jesus. And yet, I don’t hear Bill O’Reilly screaming about how the Brits have a war on Christmas because a purple dinosaur is used as the messiah. It’s like his entire argument is a bunch of BS…

Now, how does this story wrap up, Froemming? Because Karen (rightfully) freaks out about the necklace not going to her. Did they get a divorce? Did Karen and Harry work it out? What of Mia? The movie kind of leaves that one ambiguous unless I missed something.

Final point: It just dawned on me that Alan Rickman plays a character called Harry. I’ll let the nerds enjoy that one because I never saw or read anything Harry Potter.

David and Natalie

Froemming: Because nobody learned a damn thing from the Monica Lewinsky scandal by 2002, David (Grant) who is the older brother to Karen, is the recently elected Prime Minister to the UK, and begins flirting with someone on his staff named Natalie, who like Lewinsky, is a dark-haired woman who gets involved with a man who is her boss. This is perhaps the least appropriate romance in the movie. But 2002 wasn’t as woke as we are today, even though we learned this was wrong with the Clinton impeachment thing a few years before.

Brown: Fun fact: I was informed by my mom that if I had been a girl, Monica would have been my name. Thank goodness for the Y-chromosome or else the ‘90s would have been a rough time.

At one point, the President of the United State of America comes to visit and is played by Billy Bob Thornton. I’d say a step above trump, a step below Bush Jr.

Froemming: We have both Lester Nygaard and Lorne Malvo from the first season of “Fargo” in this movie, so let’s add “Fargo” to this universe as well.

Brown: I did write in my notes that I hoped Thornton’s character would say “Aces.”

Now, the President gets chummy with Natalie, because we need MORE Lewinsky parallels, and that angers our Prime Minister, who decides he’s not going to let the President and (by extension) America bully him and the British anymore.

Froemming: That’s cute.

Brown: I spaced off during this point and I thought the Brits were getting ready for the Revolutionary War Part II: Electric Boogaloo.

With that said, it was the most impassioned speech in cinema since Samuel L. Jackson in “Deep Blue Sea.” However, Hugh Grant was not eaten by a shark.

Froemming: After this, he moves her to another position because his British manners bans him from feeling emotion. But on Christmas Eve, he reads a card from her which she says she is his and she has to be honest on Christmas…

This was a confusing theme for me. At Christmas, everybody in the family gets together and tells lies so the family won’t worry about them. The British do the opposite. It’s like the toilet water flushing in Australia: Backward.

Brown: With the power of love, David goes with Natalie and her family to the school play, where every main character is there in some capacity. After a big musical number (we’ll get to that later), the audience gets a curtain pull and see the two making out.

Quick, think of your best British tabloid headline for this scene.

Mine: “PM PDA at school soiree.”

Froemming: (REDACTED) Brown saw it, trust me, it was gold.

Brown: We’ll save that one for JOE-DOWN Nights.

Daniel, Sam, Joanna and Carol

Froemming: Before he terrorized Gotham City, took out terrorist who had Taken his daughter and was seen as a genuine badass, Liam Neeson was in this movie as a father who had lost his wife and is raising his stepson on his own. I was disappointed in the lack of his beating people up in this movie.

Brown: It should be noted that Liam’s first scene in this movie is him talking on the phone.

Froemming: Daniel is struggling with life, and thinks his stepson is also taking everything super hard since Joanna passed away. Turns out, Sam is hurting from love. He has a crush on a girl at school who also shares the name of his mother, which I found very disturbing.

Brown: Oh, Sam is Ron Swanson.

A weird scene is being at Joanna’s funeral and she’s being played to the grave by the Bay City Rollers. It was especially weird until I remembered that I’ve said a bunch of times that I want Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” to play at my funeral so my friends and family have to sit through an awkward 30-minute song in my memory.

Froemming: I love the song “Echoes” so at least if I am alive, someone will enjoy the moment. I’ll also play “God Gave Rock And Roll To You, Part II” because you deserve a bad KISS song as well.

Daniel is energized by his son’s puppy love and pushes the child to make an impression on Joanna. So the kid starts playing the drums, which I imagine is every parent’s nightmare instrument of choice of their child.

Brown: And it’s flawed logic. Sid Vicious couldn’t play the bass and he got women. All you need to be able to do is look like you can play an instrument. But, he applies himself, hoping to be the next Ringo Starr (aim higher, kid. Be Neil Peart).

Froemming: To famously misquote quote John Lennon: “Ringo isn’t even the best drummer in The Beatles.”

So Sam practices all the time and we get to the really weird musical number of the holiday show at the school that everyone in this movie went to for some reason.

Brown: And it’s there where Sam’s crush, Joanna, is leading the big musical number to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Again, he didn’t need to go through that much trouble on the drums. It’s not like he got a big solo.

And in one of my favorite parts of the movie, as Joanna sings the song, she points to Sam. He’s in love. And then she points to other people in the band. And in the audience.

Folks, if looks could kill, this auditorium would burst into flames like Carrie’s prom. He had the steel-cold gaze of Patrick Bateman. That kid grew up to become Jack the Ripper.

Froemming: I imagine this was him after the song.

Brown: Sam was at least crazy enough to break airport safety protocol in a post-9/11 world, which shockingly didn’t end up with him getting shot.

Sam also likes to rip off better movies with the airport run (which is a classic rom-com trope) and a banging on the soundproof glass like “The Graduate.”

Anyways, he gets a peck on the cheek (which NO GUY ENJOYS) and love wins, I guess?

Sarah, Karl and Michael

Froemming: This was filler and I refuse to talk about it.

Brown: Cool. Moving on.

Colin, Tony and the American girls

Froemming: Not much time on this one either. Colin is obsessed with the idea that American women would like him more so he heads to Wisconsin. And right away he finds himself at a bar with beautiful women and trips headfirst into an orgy with four women. It was pretty stupid.

Brown: Colin is the Matthew Lillard of England, right?

Froemming: The only answer to that is “yes.”

Brown: Colin is also the English Tommy Wiseau because when he delivers food to the office where Harry and Mia work, he refers to Mia as his “future wife.”

YOU ARE TEARING ME APART, MIA!

Froemming: What a story, Harry!

Brown: No, this is really just to cram some cameos in with January Jones, Elisha Cuthbert and Shannon Elizabeth.

John and Judy

Froemming: This is where the nudity comes for the lizard brains in the audience. These two are body doubles for what looks like a porno. I enjoyed they had this chit-chat thing going while in erotic and pornographic positions.

Brown: I think they were body doubles in films that have sex scenes.

Froemming: I never seen a movie where characters sit on one another’s face or in provocative positions like that. Maybe British cinema is like that, I dunno.

Brown: Look, if this were an adult film, John would not have kept his jeans on in their first scene together.

You know what? Let’s move on.

Froemming: You know a little too much about adult films.

Brown: I SAID LET’S MOVE ON!

Epilogue

Froemming: Everyone meets at the airport for some reason. Harry and Karen’s thing is left unanswered, Mark Rick is there probably on his way to the states to fulfill his destiny in Atlanta, and the rest are just sort of there. BUT THEY ALL KNOW ONE ANOTHER!!!! That was the connection I guess. Unless you have anything else to add, let’s hop on a plane to recommendations.

Brown: It all feeds back to Hugh Grant’s stupid analogy at the start about the airport being the place to see love in its truest form. It’s literally the opening scene from “Dogma.”

I’m ready to leave the tarmac. Let’s go to recommendations.

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Froemming: I didn’t mind this movie. It had moments that made me chuckle and we certainly have seen worse rom-coms here. Sure, if you are really bored give it a shot.

Brown: Ehh. It’s an OK movie for a rom-com, but it’s about 30 minutes too long and it’s too crowded. We had to cover eight storylines. This is, on paper, our longest JOE-DOWN. So yeah, I can’t recommend this.