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Your Musical Advent Calendar, Part 2: "Love Actually."
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By Erich Vandussen
Erich Van Dussen's film reviews have been featured in newspapers and magazines, on the radio, and online for more than 20 years. He lives in the Finger Lakes region.
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Everybody loves Christmas carols and everyone loves Christmas movies, but did you ever consider how your favorite films use your favorite music? Second in a 12-part series.
Richard Curtis’ Love Actually is having an odd 10th anniversary year, as cultural critics from all over are taking this occasion to debate the merits of the movie – when they’re not cutting to the chase and simply calling it “the worst film ever made” or “the least romantic film of all time.” I’ve made my thoughts known on this movie here, but in this post I come not to bury Love Actually, nor to praise it. Instead, there’s just one scene on my mind.
There’s plenty of music in Curtis’ film, including “Christmas is All Around,” a quasi-parody of every lame contemporary pop holiday tune that shows up periodically during the movie like a freshly poked bruise. (In fairness, the film is in on the joke of the song’s awfulness.) But there’s only one show-stopping moment of musical Christmas cheer, and it’s a doozy: the last-reel holiday concert in which 11-year-old Olivia Olson belts out a perfect pint-size arrangement of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
Since the song was released in 1994, it’s achieved a level of popularity and universal acclaim that’s impressive even relative to Carey’s broader career. (I’m still kind of amazed at how many sales records she’s set in 25 years.) Plenty of pop stars put out Christmas albums these days, but virtually all are forgettable affairs; amid the detritus of her peers, “All I Want for Christmas is You” has emerged as the only meaningful addition to pop culture’s holiday-music canon since the end of the Reagan era.
When the song shows up in Love Actually, it serves as a validation of sorts – an endorsement of all the good will and aching Christmastime wistfulness that has saturated Curtis’ film up to that point. It can even be read literally as a script point: after all, there’s pretty much no one in the film’s enormous cast of characters that wants anything more for Christmas than to find true love. (Or to save it.)
Mostly, though, it’s a hoot to watch. In addition to Olson’s prematurely lush vocals, watch for her would-be love interest Sam (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) faking a drum solo behind her; in the years that followed, Olson and Brodie-Sangster went on to perform together in the Disney animated series “Phineas and Ferb.” And just within the context of Love Actually, their chaste “romance” is a small delight: the stuff that songs -- and timeless movie moments -- are made of.

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