9:35 p.m. 12/26/04
Today, I am still depressed from yesterday. I decide to pop in another movie after watching the twelve o’clock football game. This time, a true comedy. Truly Madly Deeply. It’s like Ghost, I thought, except it has Alan Rickman in it with a really, really bad porn mustache. In fact, I almost can’t get past the mustache, it’s so hideous. I watch it, anyway, ready to be amused by the antics of the afterlife.
Obviously, I didn’t read the blurb too closely or they were misleading me because this isn’t just a romantic comedy. Or maybe it’s just the way Brits do comedy. We first meet Nina (Juliet Stevenson) in the midst of a deep, terrible grief. Her man is dead from a sore throat, and she can’t seem to get over it. The movie doesn’t say how long he’s been dead, but it’s reaching the point where all her friends and her sister are worried about her. She doesn’t seem to be getting better, and she can only grieve. The times she breaks down in her therapist’s office are painful—more so because of my personal state of mind.
She cries out to Jamie, wanting him back so badly. Everything reminds her of him—including playing music. He was a cellist—not bad, though I read on IMDB.com that he had a stand-in for the fingering hand, although he did the bowing—and she played piano. By the way, I love the cello. I used to play, and it’s the most beautiful instrument in the world. The music in this movie is gorgeous, and I like watching the two leads sing. I have to say, though, that for musicians—neither has the greatest voice. Oops, I’m getting ahead of myself. Nina is sitting at the piano, plinking out a tune. You can see the loneliness in her face, especially since she’d just fondled his cello. I knew what was going to happen, of course. There is little surprising in this movie, but that’s ok. Yes, the cello does start playing—pan out to see Jamie and his silly mustache at the cello.
The moment Nina realizes that Jamie, dead though he is, is back with her—it’s powerful. Of course, she has to make herself believe that it is, indeed, him and not a figment of her imagination. Perhaps she is longing for him so much, he appears. No, he is real. As real as a ghost can be, and they spend an idyllic week just nesting together. She doesn’t go to work or answer her phone. She has her man back, and that’s all she needs. Oh, before Jamie shows up, there is much ado over Nina’s terrible flat that she adores but has so many problems with. Rats, improperly-made cabinet doors. She has a man—Titus (Christopher Rozycki), though I’m not exactly sure at first what his relation to her is—who ‘does’ for her, but he’s also in love with her. Or so he says. In fact, he is an irritant and pretty unbelievable. In another kind of movie, I would expect him to be the stalker. As it is, the scene where he and three other men natter on about how beautiful Nina is, well, it’s artificial at best. She’s ok-looking, but nothing special.
Can I please reiterate how grateful I am that normal people are cast in British movies? This one even more so than Love Actually. Nina is pleasant-looking but not stunning. I find Alan Rickman utterly sexy, but he’s not American-handsome. The rest are average—just average. I like this as it makes the movie more real. In America, being ugly means wearing glasses and having an unflattering haircut. The first time I really appreciated a foreign flick for this quality was when I saw Bread and Tulips—an Italian movie. The lead woman was in her forties, voluptuous and had a haggard charm. She would have been cast as the mother or the unattractive best friend in America, but she’s simply beautiful.
Anyway, you’d think America would get a clue and start being more realistic about casting, but perhaps people here really are that shallow that they only want good-looking people in their movies. Oh, and I am surprised that this is the same director—Anthony Minghella—who directed The English Patient, which I loathed. Except for Naveen Andrews, who is hot. But I digress. This movie has a simplicity to it which is utterly charming, even if the scenes are some times clunky or unbelievable. Juliet Stevenson goes over the top once in a while, but manages to rein it in when necessary.
After the first week or so of idyllic love, things gradually start to change. Jamie begins to rearrange things in the flat more to his liking. He’s sneezing all the time because he’s very sensitive to allergens. He’s freezing cold and insists that the heat be cranked up so Nina is parboiled. He wakes her up by dumping water on her head, and he likes to jump out at her to surprise her. This is a great conceit because so often, people want their loved ones back without really thinking what it’d be like. We tend to idolize our dead—minimizing their flaws until they’re almost nonexistent. The joy that Nina feels at the return of her beloved starts to be tinged with less positive emotions.
There is a subplot involving Nina’s job as a translator and the pregnant woman (Stella Maris as Maura) she’s helping. It’s well-done, but it’s a bit clunky for my taste. As far as I can tell, Maura’s there to provide Nina with the opportunity to run into the new guy (Michael Maloney as Mark) and for Nina to realize as she’s holding the newborn babe the pregnant woman births that she has to move on with her life. Oh, and to take Nina’s place in the affection of Titus, the man who declared his love for Nina earlier in the movie. Like I said, it’s a lovely subplot, but a bit obvious.
I don’t care, however, as I’m captivated by Nina and Jamie. The new man is also a bit clunky, but he matters not, either. Oh, actually he does. He’s too weird—and I don’t believe in love at first sight. He is too intense to be the love interest of someone who’s so deeply grieving over someone else. Plus, he seems more like a caricature than a real person. It doesn’t matter, however, as what she does in her real life is secondary to her strange half-life with Jamie. Who definitely is starting to take over her flat. He invites eight or ten of his dead friends to hang out and watch movies until all hours of the night. He continues to rearrange. She can’t get a moment’s peace in her own apartment. Even though it’s obvious what’s going on, it’s still amusing to watch.
I have to say, Rickman is good at creating chemistry with his leading ladies. There is a real tenderness here just as there was a comfortable fondness between him and Emma Thompson in Love Actually. I’d like to see Professor Snape have a lady interest, but I think that would blow everyone’s minds. Besides, it’s a bit difficult to figure out what kind of woman such a dark guy would be interested in. But I digress. Rickman excels at cold but icy fury. He’s also excellent at wry, sardonic wit. In this, however, he shows another side. Whiny. Petulant. Mischievous. Someone you want to swat in frustration. There is a reason for this, of course, but it’s well-done.
I won’t discuss the last part of the movie besides saying I cried buckets. It’s touching but not mawkish. I don’t much care for the new romance, but I understand that’s the vehicle with which the lovely, lovely scenes with Jamie and Nina are played out. It’s believable and evocative—but that could just be because of the space I am in right now. This movie has more to say about love than does you-know-what.
This is a definite for the Netflix Queue—and I plan on buying a copy. Disregard all the extraneous and focus on the essential—the relationship between Jamie and Nina and how difficult it is to let go. It’s definitely worth a watch or two.
4:36 a.m. 1/8/9/05
Addendum: I received my DVD of this movie today, and I watched the director’s commentary of the parts with Jamie (Alan Rickman) in it. It’s interesting to note how much input Alan had in the procedure, such as doing the whole movie wearing an overcoat. I don’t normally watch the commentary, but I’ve been doing more of that lately. I’m still not sure if knowing what the director was thinking enhances my viewing pleasure or distracts from it. At any rate, I then re-watched the scenes with Alan in them without the commentary, and they made me cry again. Well, let me rephrase that. The first scenes are so touching, they make my heart ache. When she sees him for the first time and bursts into agonizing cries, it’s almost painful to watch. When they start singing and playing together, it makes me smile.
This time around, I was able to watch for the subtle signs of Jamie’s plan. It’s quite touching to see how he looks at her with such love in his eyes. It’s even more so when you realize why he’s acting the way he is. Anthony Minghella—the director—said something about it being a shame that Alan doesn’t do the leading man part more often because he’s not typical leading man fare. He went on to say that both Alan and Juliet—the lead female—are so striking. While I don’t agree about her, it’s definitely true about him. No, he’s no Brad Pitt, thank God, but he’s got depth and character. He commands a stage no matter what he’s wearing or saying or doing. It’s a shame that America doesn’t recognize that he is so much more than sheer evilness. I don’t understand why Brits have to play the baddies in American movies, but that seems to be the case.
The scene in this movie which really gets to me no matter how many times I see it is the one where Jamie recites part of a Pablo Neruda poem to Nina in Spanish. I have no idea why it touches me so much, but it does. I think because it’s after she agonizes about wanting a life, wanting children—subtly implying that she’s moving past him. It’s only then that I fully realize the selflessness of what he’s doing and how much it must wound him. Then, as she’s weeping in his arms, he reaches out a hand to stroke her hair but then slowly lets it drop. It’s beautiful yet heartbreaking at the same time. The last two scenes with the ghosts affect me as well, but not as much as that one scene.
2:11 a.m. 1/9/10/05
Addendum to the addendum: I watched the entire movie again during the commercial breaks of the two playoff games. I have come to the conclusion that everything about it that irritated me before is no longer irritating. No, wait, Titus is still annoying but less so. This is just a gem of a movie that doesn’t try to be anything other than it is. It’s not trying to answer any huge question or apply itself across the board. It’s a lovely story of a woman who is deeply grieving a past love, and who hasn’t felt that?
This is a potentially corny movie, yes, it’s true, but the leads handle it with such aplomb, they manage to get past the preciousness of it. It helps, I think, that Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman had done several things together in the past. Their affection for each other is real, and there’s a comfortableness there that only comes with time. The grief that Nina shows is real in its rawness and anger. She is shown dripping with tears, and it’s not prettied up in any way. This movie is real despite the littering of oddball characters. It’s easy to identify with Nina and with Jamie. The scene where the two of them are singing together with such abandon is a joy to behold. It’s another of my favorite scenes in the movie.
I could watch this movie again and again, which is rare for me with movies. I can barely watch some of them once—and I have stopped a movie midway before—let alone multiple times. This is by far my favorite Alan Rickman movie so far, even though I think his performance in Die Hard is equally stellar. He’s compelling in Dark Harbor as well, and he makes quite the impression as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter series. I like his look in Love Actually the best, but this movie is my favorite overall of his movies I’ve seen thus far. Besides the mustache, of course. If you could only watch one movie of his, make it this one. You won’t be disappointed.