Her name was Liz Siegel. I had just entered middle school and she caught my eye during recess when she seductively fell off the monkey bars and onto the class dog. We would exchange the kind of private notes that would lead to embarrassment if they were intercepted by the cafeteria workers we were planning to “pants.” We would share wordless lunches over Capri Sun juice packs and laugh at teachers who smelled funny or succumbed to pneumonia. Every Saturday night, we would arrange a secret meeting at the local mall’s Sbarros where we would eat a few slices and then retire to the dumpster behind Payless Shoes for an extended make-out session. It was beautiful.
It wouldn’t last forever – we both accepted that – but even at the tender age of twelve I knew, really knew, that what we had wasn’t love; it was lust (or an excuse to hang out at Payless Shoes). And yet, in the hands of Richard Curtis, the writer/director of Love Actually, this would be considered the greatest love story of all time.
His movie, a film inexplicably beloved by women across the globe, follows ten characters in Britain during the Christmas season who each navigate through different stages of “love.” Some find it; some lose it. Regardless, it’s jam-packed with celebrities including Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant (post-scandal), Liam Neeson (pre-awesome), and Colin Firth (always boring). At the end of the screening, as the girls weep, I am firm in my belief that the filmmakers have never experienced true love; the screenplay was instead pieced together from Hallmark cards, Al Green lyrics, and those 7th grade notes between me and Liz Siegel.
Love comprises sacrifice, shared interests, respect, and -- I cannot stress this enough -- COMMUNICATION. Anything short of that is lust or deep psychosis. After years of watching this film with girlfriends and throwing pillows or babies at the screen, I’ve concluded that there is only one way to watch this movie: with complete incredulity. (An alternative is to bring the TV/DVD setup to a sealed garage and start the movie and your car at the same time.)
So, for all of the guys out there who must endure this movie in service of a “romantic” Valentine’s Day celebration, this week’s Fiction vs. Reality is for you. I hope it will provide you with the ammunition to properly remove this film from your sweetheart’s “special night” plans.
Just how would this movie play out in real life?
Scenario # 1
What Happens: The newly elected Prime Minister David (Hugh Grant) is introduced to his staff.
Hollywood Version: For no discernible reason, a secretary deemed “hefty” by other characters channels the spirit of Red Foxx and curses a blue speak. Audiences and the Prime Minister are… charmed!
Reality: According to Beatrice Matrone, former Cabinet Secretary, “This is beyond inappropriate. Her Majesty’s Government demands the utmost respect. Barring a Tourette’s diagnosis or the discovery that she is, in fact, Martin Lawrence dressed in drag for his latest Big Momma’s House laff-fest, she would be terminated immediately.”
Scenario # 2
What Happens: During a wedding processional, the best man “surprises” the couple with a choreographed song and dance number (“All You Need Is Love”) replete with flutes, guitars, and trombones. I “surprise” the TV by kicking it.
Hollywood Version: Everyone, including the bride, is elated. The priest/vicar is so excited, he delivers high-fives to random churchgoers.
Reality # 1: According to Father Mark Bishop, St. Matthews Cathedral, “This is a house of God. As such we only allow hymns -- not secular music -- to be played during sacred ceremonies. Most importantly, the Lord frowns upon high-fiving despite or perhaps because of good guitar solos.”
Reality # 2: “This would be nearly impossible to pull off,” asserts Dolores Smith, music coordinator, Our Lady of Peace. “The guitars would need to be tuned and plugged in, the choir would need at least fifteen minutes to warm-up, and the trumpet players would need a place to unload their spit valves; I’m assuming onto other spectators is undesirable. To make this happen, you would certainly need more than love; you need good planning.”
Scenario # 3
What Happens: Harry (Alan Rickman) convenes a closed-door meeting with Sarah (Laura Linney), one of his subordinates, during which he pressures her into starting a relationship with a co-worker named Karl.
Hollywood Version: Sarah, Karl and audience appreciate the suggestions made by her “love” mentor.
Reality: “Strange,” says Beth Myers, Head of Human Resources, Nabisco. “Most companies see inter-office dating as a major liability. That’s why they have strict policies that preclude employees from dating each other. His encouragement of sexual harassment among subordinates is grounds for immediate termination.”
Scenario # 4
What Happens: After earlier blowing off her friend Daniel (Liam Neeson, who is grieving the loss of his wife) for more “important” chores (she chose instead to lock down the details of her daughter’s lobster costume), and later laughing during his wife’s funeral, Karen (Emma Thompson) privately tells the teary-eyed guy to “get a grip. People hate sissies.” Then, she says, “No one is going to shag you if you cry all the time!”
Hollywood Version: A broken man, Daniel accepts this abuse. The audience respects her tough love.
Reality: According to Dr. Melissa Dynart, psychiatrist and author of Can’t You Fear Me Knocking? “Karen is a sociopath. She has no empathy for her friend – she ignores emotional pleas to field questions about lobster costumes, she laughs at his pain during funerals, and she dismisses his open-heartedness as weakness. Love may, in fact, be all around us, but unfortunately so is Karen’s mental illness.”
Scenario # 5
What Happens: Fearing drugs, alcohol, or clinical depression as a root cause, Daniel confronts his withdrawn stepson about his troubles.
Hollywood Version: Good news. The kid isn’t grieving for his dead mother; he’s in love! Daniel expresses relief until the boy asks, “Relieved? What can be worse than the total agony of love?”
Reality # 1: Eric Matthews, Vietnam War POW, says, “I was forced to share a makeshift prison cell with a tiger for five years. Periodically, my head and neck were placed into a vice while fire ants were released all over my body. That is worse than the ‘agony’ of love! I pray each day that Daniel and his son are eaten by squirrels.”
Reality # 2: According to mob boss Vinny Picatorelli, “When someone owes me money, I tell my men to break the guy’s legs, not his heart. When you have a broken heart, you can’t trust again; with broken legs, you can’t walk again. I choose that one.”
Scenario # 6
What Happens: After discovering his girlfriend in bed with his brother, Jamie (Colin Firth) flees to France… to write a crime novel.
Hollywood Version: Jamie and his Portuguese maid share a wordless bond; however, they still insist upon prattling on in endless one-way conversations for our benefit/torture. I, too, share a wordless bond with the grenades I hold in my lap while watching this film.
While the maid stares intently into Jamie’s eyes, she emotionally abuses him by: 1) pronouncing him “chubby,” 2) calling him a hack writer, and 3) chastising him for not making copies of work that she dumped into a river and then demanding a percentage of his profits. Jamie and the audience are… enchanted!
Reality # 1: According to Dr. Linda Cahill, psychiatrist and author of Black Widow: The Language of Lust, “These two are not in love and they have no emotional connection; it is purely physical. This is a clear example of a woman who uses her sexuality to trap a wealthy but weak man. Ironic that he writes a crime novel when the biggest crime is happening right in front of him. It is no wonder everyone cheats on him.”
Reality # 2: According to Eric Matthews, Vietnam War POW, “I was wrong. This is worse than sharing a prison cell with a tiger.”
Scenario # 7
What Happens: The President (Billy Bob Thorton?) makes a pass at the “hefty” secretary. Stuffily enraged, the Prime Minister retaliates by announcing an end to the long-standing cooperation between the two nations during a press conference.
Hollywood Version: Advisors, Cabinet members, and the public applaud The Prime Minister’s new unilateral foreign policy decision based solely upon sexual jealousy. To celebrate the imminent demise of Britain, PM David rewards himself with an extended dance sequence that coincides with both a pop song on the soundtrack and my pulling of the pin on that grenade.
Reality: According to Michael Brown, former Aide to Tony Blair, “Yes. It is quite a nice moment; however, the public would not be quite as supportive two days later once the United States imposed economic sanctions upon us, crippling our already tenuous economy. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of foreign policy knows that petulant behavior does not translate into effective government; however, David could rely upon his dance moves when begging for money on the streets after his removal from power, politics, and country.”
Scenario # 8
What Happens: Sarah and Karl finally acknowledge their deep love for each other. Just kidding. After some awkward 8th grade dancing, they simply head back to her place for sex (and to avoid conversation).
Hollywood Version: Finally, the growing love between two people who have never spoken to each other is about to be consummated. But wait! There are Three’s Company-like complications in the form of a hilarious mentally ill brother who constantly interrupts with prank phone calls about the Pope and Jon Bon Jovi. I dub it the “Jerry Lewis Disease.” Sarah chooses her brother’s antics over Karl and, in the process, feels sorry for herself.
Reality # 1: On the precipice of sexual satisfaction, Sarah would throw her phone out the window and laugh with Karl about her brother’s Pope jokes. She would never talk to her brother again.
Reality # 2: According to Ernest Magwi, clinical psychologist and author of Martyr Sauce, “We all make choices. Sarah chooses to play the martyr. The solution to this problem is simple; however, this woman chooses to be miserable and then tries to elicit sympathy from all around her. Her brother may suffer from hilarious mental problems, but she is the sick one.”
Scenario # 9
What Happens: Brit Colin flies to Wisconsin to get laid.
Hollywood Version: The guy heads to a motel dive bar, meets four of the hottest women on the planet and engages in a five-way with them. The triumphant music swells.
Reality: According to Dr. Eliza Beth Arkin, Planned Parenthood, “When people engage in risky sexual behavior, which includes 5-ways with strangers who all sleep in one bed, the chances for contracting STDs and other communicable diseases rise exponentially. Colin might return to England with high self-esteem, but more likely he will return with AIDS.”
Scenario # 10
What Happens: After receiving a Joni Mitchell CD for Christmas, Karen deduces that her husband is having an affair.
Hollywood Version: Devastated, she cries alone in her bedroom. It’s unclear whether it’s because of the affair or her receiving of a Joni Mitchell CD.
Reality: Lost, she contacts her friend Daniel and tells him everything. In a moment of awesome irony, he tells her to “get a grip.” He reminds her that “nobody likes sissies” and that “no one will shag her if she cries all the time.” Then, Sarah’s brother calls and leaves hilarious messages about the Pope. Despondent, Karen commits suicide. In a final comeuppance, Daniel plays Joni Mitchell’s No Apologies during her funeral procession and laughs.
Scenario # 11
What Happens: After spending a great deal of his time lounging with a newspaper and watching TV, PM David decides to go door-to-door in search of that “hefty” secretary.
Hollywood Version: The Prime Minister (adorably!) commands respect from no one. Kids force him to sing carols, random people call him “David” before slamming the door in his face, and a family insists upon keeping their appointment for a children’s nativity play (replete with lobsters) rather than speak with the leader of their country.
Reality: According to Fred Smith, British secret service, “The Prime Minister would not be allowed to simply wander down streets and bang on doors in search of ‘hefty’ secretaries without proper supervision. And as Prime Minister, he would and should utilize our national database to uncover the woman’s address. Or he can simply pull her file – she works for him. This behavior betrays a weakness in character and intellect. This scene demeans the position and us all.”
Scenario # 12
What Happens: Cuckold Jamie learns Portuguese and (in desperation) asks the maid for her hand in marriage despite never having had a conversation with her.
Hollywood Version: He marches into a restaurant where the maid doubles as a waitress and interrupts dinner service to offer his proposal. Everyone cheers (and temporarily withholds their drink/bread requests).
Reality # 1: According to Frederico Marzal, owner, Prishie café, “Dinner is one of our busiest times. We would not suspend dinner service for a romantic proposal from a weak cuckold. He would have to wait for a table -- he may request to be seated in her section. After ordering a meal and a few drinks, he may then offer his proposal. Regardless of her answer, she would be required to finish the entire shift. This is a business.”
Reality # 2: After Jamie finishes his embarrassing speech, his brother emerges from the kitchen – he has been sleeping with her the entire time. The maid/waitress explains to Jamie that even though she didn’t speak his language, his mannerisms communicated to her that he was a weak cuckold. Jamie entitles his book Suicide Actually and then hangs himself.
Reality # 3: According to Eric Matthews, Vietnam War POW, “The tiger and I, too, shared a wordless bond; however, I had enough presence of mind and self-respect – even in my delirium – not to marry it. This is embarrassing for us all.”
Scenario # 13
What Happens: After the boy’s plan to impress a girl via drumming fails (hint: his inspiration was Ringo Starr), Daniel instructs his stepson to circumvent airport security checkpoints to say goodbye to the “love of his life.”
Hollywood Version: Audiences laugh as a gaggle of police officers chases after the boy. When three security guards are distracted by a video featuring an aging rock star, the boy sneaks past them and declares his love to the girl. Later, he walks away unharmed.
Reality: Steve Jones, Heathrow security, declares, “I can assure you that we have top-notch employees who are not easily felled by images of aging rockers in tight pants. Any breach of security dictates that we shut down the airport indefinitely, which would strand thousands of passengers on Christmas Eve. This would result in massive financial losses, which is even more distressing in light of the Prime Minister’s libido-charged foreign policy decisions. Additionally, if by some miracle the boy-terrorist were not shot on sight, we would exhaust every effort to remove him from his home and place him into foster care.”
Reality # 2: “One cannot learn to drum in three week’s time,” asserts Ralph Mazur, a professor at Berkeley School of Music. “Drumming requires innate rhythm coupled with years of practice. Additionally, his choice of Ringo Starr is a mistake. It is widely known that Ringo is one of the worst drummers in history. Even the one-armed drummer from Def Leppard is better. In fact, by the end of the film, the kid’s playing should be an inspiration to Ringo. This movie gets everything wrong.”
Final Thought: Lust is really about us. We project all of our desires and fantasies onto another person regardless of whether those traits truly exist outside of our mind. Real love and affection begin after the illusions (and non-stop sex) fade away. This movie falsely celebrates the kind of passion that inexperienced teenagers mistake for ever-lasting love.
The reality is that the violation of airport security guidelines is a serious offense, mental illness isn’t (always) hilarious, heads of state don’t waste time searching for “hefty” secretaries (or make foreign policy decisions that please only their loins), and if you believe that you share a profound connection with someone who has never communicated with you, you are not romantic; you are delusional.
At least that’s what it says on my restraining order.