Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Love Actually

Billy Mack, Being Awesome

Film: Love Actually (2003)

Director: Richard Curtis

Starring: Bill Nighy, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman

Written by: Richard Curtis

No, I don’t like romantic comedies, and as a proud adherent of the Drop Dead Fred philosophy of Love Is Dis-Gus-Ting I didn’t expect to like this one when it was enthusiastically pushed upon me years ago.  Yet this film, which plays out as a sort of Christmas office party for American recognized British actors, has so many tangled threads that it’s easy to pick out a few favorite moments and ignore the rest.  For every lame tale involving a cameraman painfully lusting after Kiera Knightley, a guy hawking his Brit accent for sex in the States, or Laura Linney playing, well, Laura Linney, there are perfectly passable tales featuring Liam Neeson as a widowed stepfather, the decline of a marriage between Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, and Hugh Grant playing a chronically flustered Prime Minister who lusts after a member of his staff and sings Christmas carols for excited children.

Yes!

But the greatness of Love Actually comes almost entirely from the titanic performance of one man, and that man is Bill Nighy.  Though Nighy’s resume shows that the actor is unafraid to take on weird, screwball roles (see: Shawn of the Dead), his portrayal of washed up pop star Billy Mack in Love Actually may be his screwiest to date.  While the rest of the film’s ensemble goes through the usual stages of finding or losing love, Billy Mack can’t be bothered with any of that shit.  His purpose in life is to mangle his biggest hit into a Christmas song, repeatedly embarrass himself in its promotion, and somehow get the song to the top of the charts.  In this quest, he exposes himself publicly, gives stern advice to the world’s youth about the dangers of paying for drugs, and writes off Britney Spears as being crap in bed.  In short, Billy Mack is a man with nothing to lose, and he is utterly amazing in losing it.

And yet he provides the film’s most romantic moment – indeed, the most romantic moment I’ve ever seen in film.  After bumbling his way to victory, Billy Mack realizes that the love of his life is the chubby manager who has stood by his side through good times and bad, putting up with his prima donna abuse.  After awkwardly disclosing this epiphany to his platonic boyfriend, he proposes that they celebrate their totally non-sexual love for one another by getting pissed and watching porn. It’s a moment that would make the devil weep.

Billy Mack is the king of romance!  We should all follow his shining example.  Let’s all get pissed and watch porn!

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The Designer’s Drugs: Wes Moore – The Other Wes Moore

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Wes Moore – The Other Wes Moore: One Name and Two Fates

Anno: 2010

 

When Rhodes Scholar and military veteran Wes Moore learned of the arrest of another man who shared his name and was from his city, imprisoned for his role in a robbery and the murder of a police officer, he decided to get in touch with him.  His goal was to discover what led each person, both of whom grew up without fathers and in less than ideal environments, down their separate paths.  The Other Wes Moore is a combination of what he learned from this relationship and of his own experiences which led him to that point.

What presents itself as a “there but for the grace of God go I” story is a book equally focused upon the decline of black culture in post-civil rights America, and this ends up being the most interesting aspect of the tale.  In describing the lives of both Wes Moores as they grow up amidst the urban chaos, the author discusses the devastation which drugs, and especially the advent of crack, have wrought upon black neighborhoods.  This is the point of divergence between the author and the convict; while the former is forced into military school, where he discovers discipline and self-reliance, the latter embraces the drug dealing lifestyle of his older brother at a very early age, and he never has a chance.

While this dual biography adequately accounts for the lives of both Wes Moores, what I found lacking in the book is the interaction between the two.  The bond between Wes Moore the author and Wes Moore the convict is discussed in very faint terms, presented as quick interludes between their separate stories.  Was the connection between the two men presented and explored more thoroughly, the book would have better fulfilled its premise.  Instead, The Other Wes Moore plays out as little more than a double feature biography.  The author certainly puts in his work, but there’s something missing.