Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Thirteen

30 Day Movie Challenge:

Day Thirteen: Favorite Chick Flick

Love, Actually (2003)
Directed by: Richard Curtis
Starring: Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Alan Rickman

The label chick flick has always pissed me off a little. I grant some films are specifically marketed to women, but the term in of itself still seems both one-dimensional, and kind of insulting for everyone involved. A good movie moves past those labels. A great movie doesn’t even know they exist. The same goes for bad movies. Terrible is terrible, and there isn’t a label or genre in the world that’s going to grant it immunity.

I hated that term even more when I was a kid. Chick flicks had a negative connotation with the people I hung around with, so I always felt like I was watching porn. Or just anything that people associate with phrases like “Shameful” and “Disturbing.” I would know better, or just not care, as I got older, but the negative connotation still seems to remain with most of the people I know.

That sort of makes sense. A quick glance at Wikipedia’s definition of the term also lists several examples. Some of the examples I like a great deal (Terms of Endearment, Sixteen Candles). A lot of them (Twilight, You’ve Got Mail, Pretty Woman and several others) I loathed. Most I wouldn’t watch, even if I had to choose between waking up in bed with Al Roker over ever sitting through Sex in The City, Beaches, The Princess Diaries, The Notebook amongst many, many others. I’d like to think I hated those movies (and have no interest in seeing the ones I haven’t seen) for reasons other than a label.  Some types of films are just not meant for me (but I might feel like trying them anyway). That’s fine. I still reserve the right to think the term “Chick flick” is stupid, useless and potentially insulting (since it rarely has that positive connotation) to a movie with a lot more depth and range than it’s going to get credit for.

I think the Wikipedia article is lacking, because in the end, I still really don’t know what a chick flick really is. Does it have to have certain elements to qualify? Is it limited to only one or two genres? I know women who loathe the types of movies defined by that article. What about The Expendables? That movie made some decent bank last summer, and a lot of those tickets apparently came from women. Does that mean it’s a chick flick? I know that wasn’t really the intention behind the movie, but should the term apply, since it clearly found a large fan base with women?

Some people might consider Nekromantik a chick flick (I’ve met a couple). It’s all about definitions.

What about Harold and Maude?

I have no idea how far I can stretch the term, so I wasn’t sure what to pick for day twelve. It wasn’t a huge surprise to me that Love, Actually was also referenced in that Wikipedia article. I was half-expecting it, but I didn’t know for sure.

Is Love, Actually a chick flick? I still haven’t the faintest clue (it’s possible that Wikipedia is just a filthy liar). It has the word “Love” in the title, and it’s to my understanding that women enjoy movies with the word “Love” in the title. At several points in the movie there are indeed women, so that should mean something, too. There’s also quite a bit of romance, and scenes in which people express their feelings. God knows, broads are into all that nonsense as well.

Love, Actually is, I suppose, technically a chick flick. I guess it’s good then, that it makes the cut for day twelve. I wasn’t sure how far I was going to have to stretch the concept in order to pick something. It qualifies as a chick flick, but I’ve never seen it in those terms. In the first place it’s very, very funny. Bill Nighy steals the whole thing and deserved at the very least an Oscar nomination. I’ve always liked that the first of the film’s many stories begins, with his depressing but very funny attempt at recording a holiday-themed cover of The Troggs’ “Love Is All Around.” It’s the one plot-line in Love, Actually that never directly interacts with the rest of the movie (all of the other stories are connected in some way), and it’s my favorite.

Rowan Atkinson also shows up. That might be a deal-breaker for some of you.

The rest of the movie is pretty good. The largest reason is the cast. Getting into a movie that’s largely just a mish-mash of differing love stories may or may not appeal to me. I can’t think of anything that would influence my decision more, than the prospect of seeing several people I like in one movie. Love, Actually has one of the best casts of mostly-English actors and actresses I’ve ever seen. That would at least get me to watch the movie, and it’s mostly the work of the cast that’s warranted repeat viewings. The stories aren’t terrible. Some of them work just fine, but none of them are all that remarkable. We get a miserable writer (Colin Firth) falling for his assistant (Lućia Moniz). There’s an executive (Alan Rickman, who’s just as awesome, when he’s playing a character who isn’t terribly sinister or snide) seriously considering cheating on his wife of several years (Emma Thompson, who could never wear out her welcome with me) with his young secretary (Heike Makatsch).  We also see a recently-widowed father (Liam Neeson) get over his grief by helping his stepson (Thomas Sangster) with his first crush.

The headbutt that immediately follows this scene makes it even more touching.

Those are three stories (Nighy makes four) out of the ten that fill the movie’s lengthy running-time (two hours, and sixteen minutes). Writer/director Richard Curtis does a good job telling several different love stories (not all of which are romantic) with so many characters. Without going completely off the rails and drowning the movie in a sea of too much material. That’s a rare feat in any ensemble piece. Some of the stories (Kris Marshall’s hilarious, seemingly misguided reason for wanting to move to America) are just stronger than others (Andrew Lincoln’s very, very boring crush on Keira Knightley).

As a whole though, Love, Actually succeeds by making most of the stories work, and by boasting a cast capable of making average material a better than that. Hugh Grant will never be high on my list, but it’s really hard to dislike him here. It’s one of the two movies that suggest to me Grant can actually be pretty good with the right kind of material (the other is About a Boy). Laura Linney is the only saving grace, in a weak story about an American (who works at the same company as Rickman’s and Makatsch’s characters) struggling to both care for her institutionalized brother, and find a connection to a coworker (Rodrigo Santoro). There are more solid narratives in Love, Actually than ineffective ones, but all of them are maintained and even enhanced by the on-screen talent. That isn’t always going to be enough to support a movie (especially one this long), but it does the job in this case. Only occasionally does this veer into obnoxious, smarmy territory. That is one of the constants, I’m aware of in movies that tend to be considered chick flicks. At least, it’s too obnoxious and smarmy for my tastes. It’s probably just fine here (and elsewhere) for others. Love, Actually largely avoids those moments. Maybe, that’s why I like it. I’m still not entirely convinced that stupid Wikipedia article is right about what kind of movie this is.

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