Thursday, December 16, 2021

It's Christmas (but what does that really mean?)

Love Actually

Movie Churches has a fundamental disagreement with this film about Christmas practices. Love Actually, an anthology of romantic tales with Yuletide themes is based on the idea that Christmas is the time of year when people must tell their deepest love (or at least their current infatuation) to that special someone. A young boy must tell a classmate he likes her before she leaves for America, the Prime Minister of England must tell a young member of his staff he likes her, a man must tell the recently wed bride of his best friend he loves her…

This is all very confusing to us at Movie Churches. We thought the holiday where one honestly shared feelings of affection was Valentine’s Day, or perhaps New Year’s Eve in a pinch. Christmas is the time to HIDE how we feel. Even if we find Uncle Eustace’s politics abhorrent, we gloss over it at Christmas dinner. We pretend the hideous sweater from Mom is just what we always wanted (and we even wear it, if only for the day). Someone will even say, “I just adore fruit cake!” 

And this "absolute honesty at Christmas policy" seems to have its limits. Early in the film, a rather delightful scene takes place at the church when Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Juliet (Keira Knightley) are getting married. After the minister declares, “In the presence of God, Peter and Juliet have given their consent and made their marriage vows to each other. They have declared their marriage by the giving and receiving of rings. I, therefore, proclaim that they are husband and wife,” Mark (Andrew Lincoln), the best man and Peter's best friend, enlivens the event.

He's arranged for a flash mob to play the Beatles' “All You Need is Love.” There's a choir in the balcony, with the lead singer, horns, and a string section in the congregation. Everyone, including the minister, is delighted, as are the bride and groom. No one seems happier than Mark who arranged it all. Good for the church for allowing, perhaps encouraging, such a happening.

We learn that Juliet, Peter’s wife, assumes that Mark hates her. He's been rather cold to her and avoided her. But since Christmas is that magical time when everyone must be honest about their romantic feelings,  Mark must share his infatuation with Juliet. He does so with another dramatic show, proclaiming his love for Juliet with cue cards at her door (Prime Minister Boris Johnson mimicked in a famous campaign ad). In order to pull off this great display of “honesty,” both Juliet and Mark must deceive husband/best friend Peter. (The strains of “Silent Night” accompany Peter’s friend and wife kissing.) This perhaps bodes bad things for all their relationships in the future.

The film also presents another important life event in a church, a funeral. Daniel (Liam Neeson) gives the eulogy for his late wife, Joanna. The speech is full of wit and humor as he talks about how his late beloved expected he would bring Claudia Schiffer to the funeral. He says there were also “other things [in the funeral service] she was pretty damn clear… I said over my dead body, and she said, ‘No, Daniel, over mine.’” Then, as Joanna wished, the sound system blares with the Bay City Rollers song “Bye, Bye Baby.”

As the service ends and the coffin is carried out of the church, we see a woman (who I assume was the officiating clergy). I’m less than impressed with her -- it's rarely wise to entrust the conclusion of a funeral to the bereaved spouse. Few are able to restrain their understandable emotions. And though the Beatles might certainly provide a suitable finale to a wedding, the Bay City Rollers can’t provide a suitable conclusion to… um...anything I can think of.

I found it quite interesting that these are the only two occasions people go to churches in this film, even though the film’s climax is on Christmas Eve. For some reason, everyone goes to an elementary school's nativity play on Christmas Eve. I’ve never been to Great Britain, but I've seen numerous film and stage productions of A Christmas Carol. And I haven't seen a single one where I saw the Cratchitts gather for Tiny Tim’s school play.

Love Actually’s nativity play is a little bizarre, with an octopus and a lobster gathering at the manger with shepherds and angels while “Catch a Falling Star” plays. And then the show concludes with that time-honored carol, “All I Want for Christmas is You.” What would have happened if a student told their teacher, ``I can't do the play because our family always goes to our church’s Christmas Eve Service” or “We always have Christmas Eve dinner at Aunt Bertha’s” or “I’m Jewish.?”

There are no Christmas Eve Church Services for our Movie Churches Steeple Rating, but for the wedding church and the funeral church we, in the spirit of Yuletide generosity, grant them a three steeple rating.

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