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« 100 Biggest Foreign Language Hits of 2017| Main| Contest: mother!»
Wednesday
Dec 20 2017

Soundtracking: "Love Actually"

Chris's weekly look at music in movies gets festive forLove Actually!

Love Actuallyis so loaded with musical sequences you could almost call it a quasi-musical.That said,it is light on holiday music even though it is set at Christmas time.However,you can easily forgiveLove Actuallyif you want it to be loaded on melodic holiday cheer because it usestheChristmas song of the past few decades: Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas is You".

Like Spider-Man and multiple lobsters' participation in this Christmas pageant,Love Actuallythrows everything it can into its insane mix but is nevertheless a delight because of the reliable charms of genre hallmarks."All I Want for Christmas is You"is about as indispensable as they come and a guaranteed bop.How many times have you already heard it this holiday season and how many more times will you hear it again before it's over?Despite its ubiquity,the answer to both questions is "probably not enough".

That the film continues to soar above the impossibly joyful heights of the song is toLove Actually's credit.But the song,in all its unabashed youthfulness,is what sets this particular love story towards its "only pre-9/11 plausible"airport dash.The indefatigable heart of the song is what convinces us that,sure,Sam's behavior is worth it if it's in the name of young love and Christmas.The powers of Mariah convince us to do and support the wildest things.

ButLove Actuallyalso anticipates that many tire of holiday music quickly,and without losing that levity.Elsewhere,there is the adult contemporary crooning of Kelly Clarkson,The Beach Boys,and the Pointer Sisters.The musical commodification of romance and the season is part of its humor in the story of Bill Nighy as Billy Mack,turning his trash anthem love song into a quick seasonal cash grab.Look,some Christmas music is junk we love all the same and I'm notnotsaying that "Christmas is All Around"is on my holiday playlists.

As discussed withMeet Me In St.Louis,the season isn't all merry festivity for some.In the film's signature scene Emma Thompson silently takes the film to the next level,frozen in tears over her husband's infidelity.Instead of the jewelry she spied,he has gifted her with her favorite,Joni Mitchell.It's a personal gift yet comparatively trivial against the betrayal,the feeling of being seen but not chosen reflected in its small package.Thompson carries those complicated layers on her face while Mitchell sings the mourning she feels.

This is a later version of "Both Sides Now",weightier than the original thanks to time and age.Mitchell's musing on the elusiveness of understanding and the fleeting nature of love feels more bruised here,and of more experience.The lyrical interplay between memory and introspection are there in the performance without even saying a word,and the years spent with her husband.How might she have sung this song differently years (or even moments) ago?

At a time when we can feel most reflective,even mournful,Joni Mitchell is exactly the kind of music that has nothing to do with the Christmas season,yet captures our vulnerability so precisely that we feel it all the more deeply to time of year.But as with the film,there's always Mariah and jollier tunes to brighten the spirit,as well.

Previous Soundtracking Favorites:
Magnolia
Atomic Blonde

Lady Bird
Meet Me In St.Louis
The Big Chill

...all installments can be foundhere!

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Reader Comments (7)

I too love that scene with Emma Thompson where Joni Mitchell was singing what she feels inside.Joni's ragged voice added to the drama because it is an older (wiser?) woman reflecting on the passage of life and love and how there's really no way to second-guess how things will turn out especially when clouds get in the way,as Mitchell sings.

Whatever happened to Martine McCutcheon's career?

December 20,2017 | Unregistered CommenterOwl

YOU CANT SPELL MERRY CHRISTMAS WITHOUT MC !!!!

December 20,2017 | Unregistered CommenterTHE STAR

Some of the songs got overplayed by radio,but it's a fantastic soundtrack,and Joni Mitchell's version of her own song is the definite highlight.Such an overstuffed but perfect movie.

December 20,2017 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

I D-E-T-E-S-T All I Want for Christmas is You as much as I do Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time which is utterly!

But I love the rest of Love Actually and Emma Thompson's scenes offer an emotional workout and Joni Mitchell's version of Both Sides Now couldn't have been used more effectively.

December 20,2017 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Love this movie and its soundtrack.I have a Christmas tradition which is a double feature with Actually Love amd Bridget Jones' Diary.

December 20,2017 | Unregistered CommenterJorge

If-you-really-love-Christ-mas...come-on-and-let-it-snow.

Not to be a know it all,but the movie is actually post 9/11.Hugh Grant mentions the twin towers falling in the opening monologue.

December 20,2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaige

Fun fact: Because of its popularity and changes in previously arcane Billboard rules,"All I Want for Christmas"is 23 years old yet made the Hot 100 for the first time this year,peaking at #9.

I love Kelly Clarkson on this soundtrack,too.

December 20,2017 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

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