aka Playful Heartbreak
I’m a big Richard Curtis fan. Be it his television work or his feature films, the man knows where my emotional jugular is and exactly how to manipulate it. As a romance writer, I know practically zip about acting, cinematography, set design or scripts–all those things and more that come together to make screen magic–but I do know words, and it’s the words I tend to focus on when a moment in a film brings forth a huge emotional response from an audience. I look for those moments and the words involved. I covet them. Wallow in them.
After the popcorn’s all gone, I usually rerun the scene and look to the words and the subtext beneath, and then rewind some more to see if I can spot key moments when the subtext was being built into those words. What’s the story theme? Do those words somehow encapsulate, build or
illuminate the story theme? The answer is usually yes.
Which brings me to Love Actually, a film I watch every year. I watch it for the acting, for the dialogue and for theme. Nine different, interconnected storylines, each exploring a central theme that ‘love actually is all around us’. It can be the platonic love between old associates. The love of a father for a child, of sister for brother, of one friend for another, the love of a long-married couple, of newlyweds, or the bright new infatuation of one person towards another. Look to the literal definition of the word love. That’s what this film is exploring. All of it.
We’re forewarned that love comes with its share of heartache, and the dialogue used to do it is deliciously playful.
Daniel: So what’s the problem, Sammy-o? Is it just Mum, or is it something else? Maybe… school – are you being bullied? Or is it something worse? Can you give me any clues at all?
Sam: You really want to know?
Daniel: I really want to know.
Sam: Even though you won’t be able to do anything to help?
Daniel: Even if that’s the case, yeah.
Sam: Okay. Well, the truth is… actually… I’m in love.
Sam: I know I should be thinking about Mum all the time, and I am. But the truth is, I’m in love and I was before she died, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Daniel: [laughs] Aren’t you a bit young to be in love?
Daniel: Oh, well, okay… right. Well, I mean, I’m a little relieved.
Daniel: Well, because I thought it would be something worse.
Sam: [incredulous] Worse than the total agony of being in love?
Daniel: Oh. No, you’re right. Yeah, total agony.
It’s a subtle clue (or a hammer to the head) that not all of these storylines will end happily.
Richard Curtis has a favourite film moment–It’s the scene where Karen (Emma Thompson) listens to Joni Mitchell in the marital bedroom after having been given the CD for Christmas instead of the shiny gold necklace her husband bought for someone else. Coincidentally (or not) my favourite line of dialogue comes just before that moment in the bedroom.
Karen: One present only each tonight. Who’s got one for Dad?
Bernie: I have.
Harry: No, let Mummy go first.
Bernie: I’ll get it.
Karen: No, no, no. I want to choose mine. I think I want…this one.
Harry: I have bought the traditional scarf as well but this is my other, slightly special, personal one.
Karen: Thank you. That’s a real first.
Kids: Rip it!
Karen: What is it? I’m going to… All right, I’ll rip it. God, that’s a surprise.
Daisy: What is it?
Karen: It’s a CD. Joni Mitchell, wow.
Harry: To continue your emotional education.
Karen: Yes. Goodness. That’s great.
Harry: My brilliant wife.
Karen excuses herself and goes to the bedroom. Emma Thompson utterly nails wordless heartbreak and agony. Harry’s one liner, ‘To continue your emotional education’ crushes me every time. That line has layers.
Yes, Joni Mitchell’s music may indeed prove emotionally instructive but it’s Karen’s heartbreak that’s being punctuated here. It’s the moment she realises her husband is involved with another woman. Nobody deserves this kind of emotional education, Richard! Hand in hand with a Christmas present? In front of the kids? Why don’t you just tap a vein? And then … Richard … somehow, you made that line playful. Cheeky, even, and now romance-writer me is
admiring the utterly shameless collision of dialogue, story theme, and playful heartbreak. Playful heartbreak? Is that even a thing? I’m pretty sure I didn’t know the two could coexist so beautifully until that moment.
I’ve had playful heartbreak on my to-do list as an author ever since.
So what about Love Actually and you? Do you have a favourite storyline? A favourite scene? A favourite line of dialogue? Because I’d love to know what it is.
If you’ve stuck with this post this far, I’ve a plan to look at a favourite piece of dialogue on the first day of every month, be it from film, song, a book or whatever popular entertainment form I happen across. I’m calling it a craft building exercise (as opposed to frivolous procrastination–which it also is).