Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Power Rankings, Actually

There I was roughly one year ago, sitting at a table mostly full of people I had just met, and nobody seemed to know what to say.  It was ironic considering that the people at this table were there because we ALWAYS had things to say, we were opinion columnists at the school newspaper and this was our Christmas dinner.

The interesting thing about the Viewpoint section of The Observer is how detached it is from the rest of the paper.  Viewpoint columnists essentially write their columns, e-mail them to our editor, and never really come into contact with other people from the paper.  While the rest of The Observer is a tightly knit group (just like any organization), the Viewpoint staff is this fragmented off-shoot whose members know nobody else at the paper (even if they are also the most well-known people with the paper).

Because of this, there was a level of tentative awkwardness at our Christmas dinner last year.  While certain writers knew others through other organizations (or, by chance), the group as a whole did not know each other at all.  In an attempt to get the whole table into a conversation together (and to help everybody get to know one another), I started asking questions to spur discussion.

At first, I started by asking people about the obvious thing we had in common, our columns.  After going around the table talking about responses to our work, and what we thought about everybody else’s writing, the conversation began to dry up.  What we really needed at the table was a spirited debate about something that everybody would know about, yet something that nobody would get angry about (so politics was off the table).  Being the holiday season at Notre Dame, the question seemed obvious:

“So, what is everybody’s favorite storyline in Love, Actually?” I asked, assuming that they all had seen the movie.  Conversation was sparked quickly with one guy mentioning the Liam Neeson storyline and another guy mentioning the Emma Thompson storyline.  I added my opinion about the superiority of Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister storyline, and a light-hearted holiday debate began.

Then, however, I realized something. 

While there were five guys and five girls sitting at the table, only the guys were talking about their favorite storylines.  Thinking the girls might just be a shyer crowd, I was individually asking them their opinions when I figured out that NONE OF THE GIRLS HAD SEEN THE MOVIE.  Here I was at a table with ten college aged men and women, and while all of the men had seen this romantic comedy; none of the women had seen it.

This was Love, Actually we were talking about.  The Ultimate Romantic Comedy.  This movie is tailor made for girls.

As I expressed my shock at the fact that none of the girls at the table had seen the movie, I realized that it was not only ironic that all the guys at the table had seen the film, but also a very telling thing about Notre Dame guys.  These were five different guys that collectively knew a lot of different people on campus, and each of us had made the assumption that Love, Actually was a movie that every Notre Dame Student Likes. 

This was the day when Love, Actually cemented its position on the list of Things Notre Dame Students Like (see #69), and also one of my favorite anecdotes about the movie.  Each of the guys that day had their own opinion about which story was best, and in honor of that, here are my rankings of the storylines in the film:

Dishonorable Mention: Mark’s Story

The worst storyline of the film is not even deserving of a ranking on my list.  While it is certainly well acted, written, and directed; the actual story and what is going on it are really quite despicable.  As you might remember, Mark (Andrew Lincoln) is the best man at Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Juliet’s (Keira Knightley) wedding.  He is Peter’s best friend and orchestrates an amazing send-off for the new couple at the conclusion of the wedding. 

Everything is going great in this story, until we discover that Mark is somehow in love with Juliet.  This plot twist is completely ridiculous.  No self-respecting best friend could manage to ‘fall in love’ with the girlfriend of his best friend (let alone THE WIFE).  Most bros even see ex-girlfriends of best friends as off-limits (except, ironically, in the Bro-Code driven world of How I Met Your Mother where Robin is passed between Ted and Barney like some sort of pipe).  If you find yourself on the wrong end of a love triangle: GET OUT!!  It is disgusting to me that Mark had to secretly profess his love for Juliet, AND get a kiss from her before he finally said, “Enough now.” 

What is most amusing about this storyline is that I have had people (girls) tell me how much they like it.  A female friend once said to me, “You can’t help who you fall in love with,” trying to defend Mark’s actions.  I find this to be absurdly inaccurate, and believe the real reason most girls like the story is because they view it from Juliet’s perspective.

While Mark is essentially cheating on his best friend, and Peter’s presence in the story is nearly nonexistent; Juliet is presented with a grand romantic gesture that makes every girl envious.  These girls just can’t understand how horrible it is because more than likely they don’t know what it’s like to be a best friend.  Just as the rest of the stories in this film are about love, this story is essentially about jealousy, hate, backstabbing, and sleazy actions: things I refuse to endorse.

8) John and Judy
The story of the movie stand-ins isn’t necessarily a bad storyline, but it is probably the weakest of the ones in the film.  Sure it’s somewhat interesting that they meet on a film set where they are pretty much naked the entire time, but their characters are essentially one-dimensional.  There is never any conflict between them, they are only tangentially connected to every other storyline, and there is no aspect of love broached in their storyline that isn’t covered in others.  While it is nice filler between the grander storylines, it’s not surprising that all of their scenes are removed without notice from certain (censored) versions of the film.

7) Harry and Karen
One of the core four stories of the film, the story of Harry (Alan Rickman) and Karen (Emma Thompson) is one about a love for their children.  Harry acts as a complete idiot throughout the film as he ‘emotionally cheats’ on his loving wife with his ever-seducing secretary.  Is this ironic because he gives advice to Sarah about Karl?  This story is highlighted by the spectacular acting of Emma Thompson who must put on a face of happiness for her kids when she has been crushed by her husband’s actions.  In particular, I love the scene when she runs into her brother back stage of the play: a very underrated, yet emotional scene.

6) Colin and the American Girls
Yes, American girls like British accents, and while Colin’s trip to Milwaukee might be over the top; it is probably what would happen in real life.  I wish the same would be true of American’s visiting London (or China, I suppose).

5) Sarah and Michael (and Karl)
I don’t think this story always gets the credit it deserves.  While it is somewhat heartbreaking to see Sarah (Laura Linney) give up a chance with her supposed dream guy (Paulo from Lost), it works well in the end when we discover that she probably needs her brother more than he needs her.  I like it because it shows that even though we sometimes have to sacrifice things for the people that we love, we ultimately make these sacrifices because we want and need these people more than anything else.

4) Jamie and Aurelia
The second of the major storylines in the film, the story of Jaime (Colin Firth) and Aurelia depicts the barriers that love can overcome.  It is a story of subtleties for the most part as the acting, writing, and emphasis is minimal.  This minimalism, however, paves the way for its epic climax where Jamie marches through the streets of Marseilles to ask Aurelia to marry him.  With the music keeping the pace and crowd getting larger, probably the best moment of the entire film occurs when Aurelia responds to his  question in English; showing that even though the two could not communicate, they still forged a strong bond with each other.

3) Daniel and Sam (and Joanna)
This story changes from sadness to happiness in an instant as it depicts Daniel (Liam Neeson) worried about his step-son to helping his step-son deal with the love of his life.  I love the fact that Daniel is very passive throughout the story, even though he is dealing with the death of his own true love, but is shown to reemerge from all the pain by the conclusion.  Joanna, in a way, helped Sam and Daniel get over the loss of their wife/mother, and sang a rousing rendition of a great Christmas classic as the film reached its climax.  You also have to love Sam’s run through the airport.

2) Billy Mack and Joe
While this story is about a different type of love, the bro-love that I wish Mark and Peter had, and these two characters have no connection with the others; I think it is the funniest storyline of the entire film.  Billy Mack is probably the best built character in the movie, and he has several great lines in every scene that he appears.  His mannerisms are hilarious, his lines are funniest, and his coming together with Joe at the end is neither over-the-top, nor unrealistic.

1) David and Natalie
What can I say, I’m a sucker for Hugh Grant . . . or not.  In fact, this is the only Hugh Grant film I actually enjoy, but his storyline here is my favorite scene-for-scene storyline in the entire film.  His dance moves are funny (considering he’s in 10 Downing), his door-to-door search for Natalie is a grand romantic gesture (even though the Prime Minister would NOT have to walk door-to-door to find somebody), and there is even some politics to make it all more interesting.  For her part, Natalie has a certain underrated beauty quality to her which is augmented by other characters calling her chubby.  She is definitely the most likeable of the female leads.  What puts this storyline on top, however, is the awesome speech in the middle of the film touting all of the things that are great about Britain.  Whenever I see that scene, I wish I was British just so I could jump off my couch and do some fist pumps.  In my opinion, this is probably a top-10 movie speech (which is saying something for a romantic comedy).  Oh, and this storyline also features Bad Santa himself (Billy Bob Thornton) ostensibly playing Bill Clinton.  Awesome.


  1. Hi Bill,

    I have loved this movie since I first saw It at the theater. I was with my best friend and his GF at the time. I remember it was a bitterly cold Canadian night but the warm feeling that the movie and the company gave me sticks with me to this day. My best friends Gf died of cancer two christmas's later at the young age of 23 for some reason that movie always brings me back to that night and the wonderfull feeling of fellowship we shared then. I rewatched it today with my wife as a result of your columns. So thank you for your excellent writing I enjoy it very much. Merry Xmas Bob.


  2. I definitely put Jamie and Aurelia a bit higher just because of the end scene and the subtitled comments all of the neighbors are making during the walk through Marseilles.

  3. Daniel, Sam, and Joanna is the best storyline, hands down.