Richard Curtis Redux

(The problem with yet another blog is the pressure to post. Actually that may be a good thing.)

So I spent a pleasant evening last night with M. We had a meal out in London, bumped into a Bollywood film being made in Trafalgar Square and walked around a lot looking for a place to have coffee. (Did you know there are parts of London that shut down at around 10pm. That just seems wrong somehow.)

But this is not about any of that. I did have a conversation with M. about what it is about. I told her she was getting a world-exclusive sneak preview of my next blog entry.

Naturally she was deeply impressed.

On Monday (Bank Holiday) I watched Love Actually again. I think it’s only the second time I’ve watched it. I bought the DVD, confident that the creator of Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral would have something fun for a romcom addict like me. I was a little under-whelmed. If you don’t already know, Love Actually follows about 8 or 9 loosely connected love stories happening near Christmas in London. That’s probably 5 or 6 too many for me. At least that was my conclusion when I first watched it. Life finds me (possibly temporarily) more cynical about love at the moment (so why was I watching? good question. dunno) and I think for once I agreed with a lot of Curtis’ other critics, that it’s all a little too saccharine.

But this isn’t even really about my view of the film either. In the DVD extras Curtis recounts how he came up with the idea for the film. He said that it takes him about 3 years to complete a film project and that he generally wrote romcoms but wanted to do other stuff too. Given that he had several ideas for romcoms he realised that if they all took 3 years he’d possibly spend the rest of his life doing only that so he wondered about combining all the stories in one film.

The reason this caught my attention was because there’s one story in particular, which sums up the romcom, certainly the Curtis romcom. An early twenties bloke is fed up with his lack of success in getting a woman. He declares to his friend that he’ll go to America where his ‘cute’ British accent will assure him lots of dates. His friend tells him he’s crazy. He goes to America – to Wisconsin – walks into the first random bar he finds and meets 4 (actually 5) beautiful, friendly women who all love his accent. They invite him home to their tiny appartment where they all have to share a bed (cos the apartment’s so small) where they all get naked (cos they are so poor they can’t afford clothes).

Now obviously this is not in the slightest to be taken seriously, but look at the structure: attractive, but slightly nerdish (i.e. ‘everyman’), guy desires love. There’s an obstacle (he’s not in America). He makes a grand bold romantic gesture (he goes to America). Result: everything works out and he gets the girl(s) (who’s implausibly more beautiful than someone who would go for him in real life would be). It’s like a compressed version of an awful lot of romcoms. An awful lot of awful romcoms especially.

It’s that thing I talked about in my review of The Girl in the Cafe – making the implausible feel possible in order to create a feel-good movie. However here the compression of the story simply highlights the implausibility so Curtis makes the very implausibility his vehicle for humour (Douglas Adams would be proud*). Which works but also shows up the strings in the puppet theatre (or something like that with a less hackneyed metaphor).

And I think that that trade-off – swapping plausibility for humour – is a dangerous one to make in a romcom. There are always funny movies but to make a great romcom we’ve got to believe in the happy ending and to do that we have to believe in the happy ending.

Maybe that’s why I like his other movies better. They give more time to one story and that’s more time to fool me into believing.

(*do I have to explain that reference? Check my blog I think I’ve mentioned it before.)


About shuggie

My name is Shuggie, Paul or LatePaul depending on where you know me from. I work in computers (databases) and occasionally write about softw
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