Just as I promised in the last installment, it's Christmas Eve!
Wha...what do you mean, where have I been with this feature? It's Christmas Eve, and it says so right up there. It's not my fault that time since the last week before Christmas goes by slowly. Why, when you're a little stuffed bull, that time feels so unhurried that it almost seems like it could be four years.
It's time to do your last-minute Christmas shopping, no matter how busy it is on the High Street...
...but if you're aging pop star Billy Mack, your Christmas present comes one day early with the announcement of the Christmas Number One single of the year. It's not his holiday nemesis Blueit is,. Of course, Billy himself with "Christmas Is All Around!" Oh come on, you might have guessed it (tho' you may not believe it) from frame one of the film, right?
Billy's manager Joe is, of course, delighted:
Asked by a radio DJ interviewer via phone how he'll be celebrating, Billy is forthright:
I don't know, Either I could behave like a real rock and roll loser and get drunk with my fat manageror when I hang up, I'll be flooded by invitations to a large number of glamorous parties.
Which actually, is exactly what happens: "Elton" is on line one to Billy, who declares "Send an embarrassingly big car and I'll be there." And Joe, the man behind it all, is left behind.
Meanwhile (still on Christmas Eve), John and Judy, our frequently-nude body doubles, have wound up their first date on the doorstep of Judy's flat. It is a successful date: Judy declares cheerfully "All I want for Christmas is you!" Which, you have to agree, would make a dandy title for a song. And she kisses him.
Yes: a most successful date.
This is the end, sorta, of John and Judy's love story. They'll appear very briefly a few scenes later, and like many of the other characters, they'll show up in the film's epilogue. But for all intents and purposes, this is their Happy Ending. I'll keep track of each of these endings throughout this Christmas Eve, but I'm warning you now (so you don't blame me later): altho' most are happy, some are sad or bittersweet. That's life; that's love, I guess. But good for John and Judy! Hooray!
Meanwhile (and I'm gonna be using that word a lot in this section), Jamie is arriving at his family's for Christmas Eve.
Nobody doesn't like Colin Firth arriving for Christmas!
"Yes, splendid, lovely to see you all," says Jamie. And he sets down his gifts and leaves. "And, I'm off."
Disappointment reigns, as the children each declare loudly and passionate: "I hate Uncle Jamie!"
Who's Jamie off to see? Three guesses, and if they don't rhyme with Borrelia (which is a genus of bacteria of the spirochete phylum that causes borreliosis, a zoonotic, vector-borne disease transmitted primarily by ticks and some by lice), they don't count. He is, in fact, off to Gatwick Airport. It's not the end of his story, not yet.
And further meanwhile, at Fairtrade, it's late and only Karl and Sarah are in the office.
He hesitantly walks to her desk...
Karl hesitates. "I..." he begins, but he can't finish his own sentence. "Merry Christmas," he finally says.
"Merry Christmas, Karl," Sarah replies brightly (more brightly than she feels)...
...for as Karl walks away, she wipes away a tear and phones her brother on her omnipresent phone.
At Number Ten ("meanwhile"), David is working his way through his pile of papers in his red case, government policy never stopping, even at Christmas.
At the top of his pile of papers is a small assortment of Christmas cards. I wonder if he got mine. It's the one with the little stuffed bull on the front, Mister Prime Minister!
And alsomeanwhile (I just made up that word), hard loud drumming continues incessantly from behind Sam's bedroom door, trying to get him to come out for dinner.
"I'm not hungry!" yells Sam. "I've done chicken kebabs!" "Look at the sign on the door!"
We cut back to Sarah and her brother Michael at the hospital mental ward, exchanging gifts. She wraps a new scarf around his next and hugs him, tightly. And this is the end of Sarah's story...completely, as far as Love Actually is concerned. She or Karl or Michael do not appear in the later epilogue.
There are all kinds of love, and although not all the romantic liaisons in the film "work out," Sarah's love for her brotherc'mon, she bought him a Monty Python book, of course she loves himis her story. I think some critics really didn't like this moment and this realization, but I think it ranks as one of the finest moments of any in the movie. That's life and love: things don't always work out in love and life the way you wish.
To highlight that point, let's switch ("meanwhile") to belle of the
The doorbell rings. Who could it be? Pizza delivery? A late-minute wedding present arriving from Amazon.co.uk? Perhaps a new character added to the film in the very last section? Juliet gets up to open the door...
...and since she's so happy to see whoever it is there, it must be me.
No, no, it's
"Who is it?" calls Peter.
Juliet, of course, has immediately seen the flaw in Mark's desperate plan. As Juliet or you or I has noticed immediately, what if Peter had come to the door?" 'Oh, hi, mate, whatcha doing?' 'Um...I just stopped by with a boom box of some carol singers and some poster board.' But Juliet, as Keira Knightley always is, is polite and kind and allows the plot to go forward. "It's carol singers!" she calls back to Peter, who better not wander out to see the singers, right? Right. That's Keira Knightley: full of class, even around a guy crushing on her. Ya gotta love that girl. You must love that girl.
As the boom box plays (ahem) "carol singers," Mark flips through a series of cards and shows them to Juliet:
...which makes Juliet laugh. It's a delightful sight, full of giggles and teeth. Look, you crush on who you want, I'll crush on who I want.
For now, experience the next few moments, and the next set of cards, as Juliet does: without dialogue, only accompanied by "Silent Night" on the boom box.
Mark tucks his cards under his arm and turns to go, his piece "spoken," but Juliet runs after him...
And gives him a kiss...more sweet than romantic, but a kiss nonetheless...and then she turns, and returns to Peter.
"Enough," declares Mark aloud to himself, putting his romantic infatuation behind him, as best as he can. "Enough now." And that is the end of Mark and Juliet and Peter's story, except for their short bit in the epilogue. Another not-a-happy-ending. Love actually doesn't always work out.
Another door, another knock, another meanwhile: at Joe's flat, Billy surprisingly and suddenly arrives. Bill has had an epiphany.
An epiphany that Christmas is a time to be with the people you love. "Here I am, mid-fifties and without knowing it, I've gone and spent most of my adult life with a chubby employee. And much as it grieves me to say it, it might be that the people I love is, in fact, you."
"Ten minutes at Elton John's," Joe says, "and you're as gay as a maypole!"
But Billy's earnest honesty is infectious. "We have had a wonderful life. Now come on, let's get pissed and watch porn." And that, until the epilogue, is the end of Billy and Joe's story. All altogether now: awwwwwwwwwwwwww.
Meanwhile (a-little-bit-later-than-the-last-time-we-saw-him), David finally gets to his pile of Christmas cards.
He's gotten them from government officials, top ministry bigwigs, and, for some reason, the fourteen-years-dead Laurence Olivier.
Wow, he really gets the most absolutely boring Christmas cards. Sorry, Charles Dickens, but it's true.
...that is, until one particular card catches his eye.
It is, of course, because this is a movie and not real life, from Natalie. Go ahead, look over his shoulder and read it! G'wan, he won't notice.
And with the firm and forceful decision which Mark has so recently said "Enough," David stands up...
...and, to a reprise of the Pointer Sisters's "Jump," calls for a car and driver and heads out into the night...
...across my favourite bridge in London, the Albert Bridge (please see Sliding Doors for more of this marvelous bridge's screen appearances)...
...and into Wandsworth, Harris Street...the dodgy end, which, you may remember, is where Natalie told him she lives.
But not, of course, at which house. So David starts, quite logically, at No. 1 Harris Street.
I'm very fond of the next few minutes of the movie, and Richard Curtis handles this deftly with a series of short edits as David goes from door to door up the street asking if Natalie lives there.
The woman at No. 1 immediately dashes any hopes he had of anonymity. "Aren't you the Prime Minister?"
"Yes, in fact I am. Merry Christmas. Part of the service now. Trying to get round to everyone by New York's Eve."
Cut to No. 56 Harris Street...
...where three little girls ask David if he's singing Christmas carols. "Please sir, please!"
David uncomfortably launches into a hesitant rendition of "Good King Wenceslas," which absolutely delights the young girls...
...especially when his bodyguard joins in with a deep and professional baritone.
It is indeed the best thing these girls have ever seen.
Number 100: Does Natalie live here?
No. In fact, Mia lives here, and so does the necklace Harry gave her. Consider this: she's got a lovely, expensive necklace...but she's all alone on Christmas Eve. This is the absolute end of Mia's story. Good riddance to bad rubbish, we say. Although Mia does add...
...just as David turns away..."She's next door."
Natalie's family, boisterous and loud, is just leaving the house as David rings the bell. They are, of course, astonished. Yes, it's not every day Hugh Grant comes to your front door.
Natalie, arriving immediately afterwards, is suitably surprised as well.
He's immediately delighted. Well, who wouldn't be by Natalie?
The family is all on their way out of the door to the local school's Christmas Eve pageant, so there's no time for Natalie to stop to talk to David. 'The octopus costume's taken me months,' explains Natalie's mum. 'Eight is a lot of legs, David.'
David suggests that he and his driver take Natalie to the pageant so they can talk in the car. As Richard Curtis so wonderfully puts it in the screenplay, That's not bad news for Natalie.
While the family crowds into the police escort car...
...Natalie and David are in his car. With Natalie's little, octopus-dressed brother between them. This is obviously not the place to talk personally. Does the Prime Minister never get a break?
Everyone arrives at the school for the Christmas pageant. I do pretty much mean everyone: John and Judy are there, awkwardly side-stepping with umms and errs John's brother's question of where they met.
Also there: Daniel and Sam. Of course! This is the Christmas pageant that Sam was practicing for. There's a lot riding on this Christmas pageant, don't you think?
A quick cut to Marseilles Airport: Jamie has arrived in France. So there's that subplot proceeding along steadily, then!
Jamie is briefly frustrated in his attempt to catch a taxicab by being outmaneuvered for it by famous French actress Jeanne Moreau.
Seriously! That's her. Nice cameo, grabbing a taxi, there. Jamie, however, is mildly frustrated.
Don't get too attached to Mlle. Moreau's character of "Woman at Airport," though; she won't be appearing again. And Jamie, to our and his great relief, grabs the next taxi, there being more than one cab in France, apparently. The end of Jamie's story? Of course not. More later.
So, let's go back to the school in Wandsworth, the Universal Nexus of most all of the subplots of Love Actually Look out look out look out! Here comes another one, literally crashing into David in the hallway: his sister Karen. Remember, Hugh Grant is Emma Thompson's brother? In the movies, that is.
Karen, so recently upset by suspicions of her husband's infidelity, is overwhelmingly emotionally pleased to see David at the pageant...
...the same pageant Karen's children are appearing in (daughter Daisy as First Lobster at the Nativity). See how easily all the various threads of the vast, colorful tapestry of Love Actually are woven together by Richard Curtis? Next up: an appearance by Blackadder. We can only hope!
David awkwardly introduces Natalie to Karen as "my catering manager." I don't think Karen believes it for a second, not with that all-penetrating Emmathompson-vision she has. "Watch out he keeps his hands off you," she jokes to Natalie, "Twenty Years ago you would have been just his type." "Don't try something," Natalie teases David, "just because it's Christmas!"
Begin the Nativity Pageant! The children sing "Catch a Falling Star," and it is, as should any telling of the Jesus story, wildly imaginative. There's a penguin, the aforementioned eight-legged octopus...
...three, count 'em, three lobsters... (yes, there were more than one lobster present at the birth of Christ)...
...angels, fluffy sheep, shepherds, Joseph, Mary, and baby J....
And of course, a blue whale...
The Nativity play is followed by the Big Number™, and it's a showstopper: ten-year old Joanna (Olivia Olson), the object of Sam's sheer overpowering love, singing a soulful, ebullient version of "All I Want for Christmas is You," a wonderful enough rendition to make you say "Mariah who?"
Here, take a look for yourself.
Natalie and David watch from backstage...
Daniel watches intently from the audience, seeing for the first time in person Sam's crush...
And Sam, if I may say so, performs brilliantly. No, seriously. I wanna be a drummer. It is clearly not only the best way to get chicks, it looks like a lot of fun. All of Sam's hard work has paid off.
Backstage, David and Natalie move closer...
Especially when Joanna sings "All I want for Christmas..."
And she points to Sam.
"And you!" pointing to a random member of the audience.
"And you!" to someone else. It's all just part of the number, and as Joanna bows and the crowd cheers, Sam's face falls.
The curtain goes up a "Merry Christmas" tableau behind the band, but nobody's paying attention to the litter and construction paper.
YAY! David and Natalie have finally gotten together into an intense game of kissy-face. Which is, I think, pretty darn surprising to the assembled parents and families:
"So not quite as secret as we'd hoped," the Prime Minister says.
"What do we do now?" Natalie asks. "Smile," David says. "Take a bow." They smile and take a bow.
And the audience loves it. Thus proven that if they'd gotten out to see the movie Love Actually, they'da adored it.
And that, my fellow Love Actually watchers, is pretty much the end of David and Natalie's story. It's a happy one! Hooray! I'm glad for both of them. They'll be back in the epilogue, but first, Karen confronts Harry about the necklace. He's mortified and she's distressed and angry: 'You've made a fool out of meyou've made the life I lead foolish, too.'
As quickly as her children appear, she shuts off the accusations, but the knowledge of the damage done hangs over Harry and Karen. This is the end of their story, except for the epilogue. Golly, such a sad sharp sour ending after a happy David and Natalie one. Let's hope that Karen and Harry's epilogue is at least not so sour. As much as I'm mad at Harry, I would hate to see Karen come after him with a chain saw. No, no, wait, "hate" is not the word I want. What's that word?...oh yes. Love.
Meanwhile, yet again, Sam's story is not over. Stepdad Daniel congratulations him on his drumming, but Sam remains morose. 'Plan didn't work, though.'
Here's another scene I love: Daniel encourages Sam to go after Joanna before she flies out of England with her family tonight, and tell her that he loves her.
Sam, you've got nothing to loseand you'll always regret it if you don't. I never told your mum enoughI should have told her every day, because she was perfect every day. You've seen the films, kiddoit ain't over 'til it's over.
"Okay, Dad," says Sam. "Let's go get the shit kicked out of us by love."
There's a bit of an awkward plot-shuffling hereyes, Love Actually isn't crystal-edged perfectwhere Sam has to rush off and do something quickly before they leave. On the other hand, this gives Daniel a chance to bump into the woman behind him:
This is Carol, and she looks like Claudia Schiffer. So much that she's played by Claudia Schiffer. So now you know where that plot point was going, right?
Daniel's flustered and tongue-tied. He's preoccupied by Sam's dilemma and unused to talking to women.
But Sam spots the immediate attraction between Daniel and Carol; "Tell her," he says. "What?" Sam makes kissy-face noises. "Don't be such an arse," growls Daniel.
But by the time they get outside...
...Joanna is already in her parents' car and off to the airport. That's it, then? Of course not...this is a movie. "I know a short cut!" says Daniel, and then next twenty minutes of the film is a high-powered car chase!
No, no, no, I was kiddin' ya. We go ("meanwhile") to Marseilles, where Jamie has arrived at Aurelia's home. She's not there, but Jamie is able to use his newly-but-not-perfectly-learned Portuguese to ask
A daughter, definitely not Aurelia, appears from the back room:
No, no, Jamie hastily if imprecisely explains, his other daughter. Aurelia's father pulls Jamie (other daughter right behind them) off to see Aurelia. Ah, the comedy of misunderstood foreign languages!
At Heathrow, Daniel and Sam arrive just that little bit too late to catch Joanna before she enters through security. No way they're getting through...this is, after all, the post 9/11 world. "You can't come through here without a boarding pass." "Not even to let the boy say goodbye to the love of his life?" A beat. "No."
Sam and Daniel stand aside, Daniel trying to reason with his son that the chase is over, as the next passenger steps up to security.
This is, once again, Rufus...the store clerk from Selfridge's who performed such an elaborate act of delaying Harry from buying the necklace for Mia. (What a small, small world this Love Actually exists in!)
Rufus has "misplaced" his boarding pass, and shuffles through his pockets in search of it, handing the gate man his hat and coat, busying himself with searching for the ticket. It's an excellent opportunity for distraction. "You want to make a run for it?" whispers Daniel? Sam does, and slips past the Gate Man.
And with Sam past the Gate Man, Rufus turns and gives Daniel a Meaningful Look™.
What's the Meaningful Look™ all about? Richard Curtis writes in the Love Actually script book:
Rowan Atkinson's character in Love Actually was originally meant to be an angel, thereby explaining his eerie familiarity with characters who had never met him before. In his final scene he was meant to disappear while walking away from Liam Neeson in the airport. The whole idea was eventually scrapped and left us with a funny, if somewhat random, performance from Atkinson.
"Meanwhile!" Sam sprints through the gate, up and over security, and through the airport. He is doing what we all want to do in an airport. Sam, you are living the dream.
But will he be in time?
We'll find that out in a moment. (Oh, cruel, teasing Richard Curtis!)
A while that is the mean, the crowd following Jamie and Aurelia's father and sister has grown until it seems like the entire town is dogging them. There is, of course, the usual problems with language translation:
Meanwhile, back at Heathrow, as Sam approaches the boarding gate...
...the gate attendants are, thanks to the kind synchronicity of life and especially life in a rom-com, distracted by the television. Remember Billy Mack's pledge to strip naked and sing "Christmas Is All Around" on telly if it went to the Christmas #1? Were you wondering what that would look like? Were you waiting to see Bill Nighy naked? Well, wonder and wait no more!!
"Joanna?" Sam says.
Right at the gate, Joanna turns, and smiles. "Sam?"
"Thought you didn't know my name!" Sam says. "Of course I do!" says Joanna.
But time is up for Sam.
He's escorted back to Daniel, beaming ear to ear. Well, wouldn't you? he got through the airport without having to buy a three quid bottle of water!
Sam gives his stepfather the high sign of success...
...but there's still one surprise left. Joanna has followed behind him, and...gosh shucks, she gives him a kiss. If your heart isn't melting at the romance, sentimentality, and extreme improbability but utter loveliness of this scene, you're a stronger bull that I am, bubby.
And that, accompanied by the rising, triumphant score, is the end, until the epilogue, of Sam and Daniel and Joanna's story. Nice, wasn't it? Yeah. Yes, it was. Insert smiley-face emoticon here.
Which leaves us with just one last meanwhile: back to Marseilles and Jamie. Arriving where she works as a waitress, her father explains to the restaurant manager:
The course of true love, as we have seen, doesn't always run smoothly, as there are objections to this union:
And suddenly, Aurelia is on the balcony of the restaurant, and you know it's a big moment, because the music swells again...
And Jamie, in his hesitant, halting, halfway but heartfelt Portuguese, asks Aurelia
Aurelia replies, in her hesitant, halting, halfway but heartfelt English...because she's been learning the language of her love, too: 'Thank youthat will be nice.'
'..."Yes" is being my answer. Easy question.'
And this, this wonderful moment, is the end (until the epilogue) of Jamie and Aurelia's story, as just like, exactly like in the movies, everybody cheers and applauds. 'You learned English?' Jamie asks. 'Just in cases,' smiles Aurelia.
Aurelia kisses Jamie!
Aurelia's sister kisses Jamie!
Aurelia's father kisses Jamie!
It's the happiest night anybody's ever spent in a Portuguese restaurant. (And I've had the pork belly at Alfama!) There's no better place to spend on Christmas Eve than in a Portuguese restaurant, or backstage at a school in Wandsworth, or at a security gate at Heathrow, so long as you're kissing the one you love.
But it's still only Christmas Eve, and what's this "epilogue" I keep talking about? Well, there's more to Love Actually, and we'll have to check in to see what's happened to all our favorite characters, from Man on Bus to Jeanne Moreau. In keeping with the pace at which I have been scheduling and writing this feature, you can expect to see my piece on the Epilogue in about, oh, six, seven years. Or maybe sooner, I hope. Watch this space, and kiss the one you love. A very merry and love-filled Christmas to you all! 'Specially you, Keira Knightley.