Guilty Pleasures: Libby Fischer Hellman

“If Love is the Answer could you rephrase the Question?”

Lily Tomlin made that comment decades ago, but it makes total sense for me today. The question – rephrased, of course — is what film constitutes my guilty pleasure. The answer, actually, is “Love, Actually.”

I can’t resist it. Every time it shows on cable, I find myself drawn in. I watch it – again – and I love it – again. It’s silly, it’s cynical, it’s melodramatic, and Hugh Grant dances around in his underwear. What more could you want? (Editor’s note: Hugh is fully dressed when he does his little dance, it was Tom Cruise, in Risky Business, that did his dance in his whiteys.)

Well, actually, it’s not just Hugh Grant. The film boasts a superb cast in a series of vignettes where everyone is pursuing or running away from love in a mosaic of different perspectives. There’s the stoic Laura Linney — except for one scene where she celebrates bringing a guy home behind a wall– to the bewildered Alan Rickman, to the unctuous Rowan Atkinson, to the ever-suffering Emma Thompson. Even now, I’m mentally replaying the scene where she thinks she’s getting a beautiful necklace for Christmas but gets a Joni Mitchell CD instead. Her anguished, deflated expression is unforgettable. There’s Colin Firth as a stuffed shirt Englishman, Keira Knightley as a slightly ditzy bride, and the wonderfully sleazy Bill Nighy, who is now, because of the film, one of my favorite actors. (He was excellent in MI-5, btw.) Even Billy Bob Thornton makes a cameo appearance as a randy US President.

There’s also the young Brit who goes to Wisconsin and returns with some girls who sound like they’re from Texas – apparently geography wasn’t a priority in the script – and there’s Liam Neeson, who by helping his son pursue love, helps resolve his grief at losing the wife he loved.

Because it’s set over the Christmas holidays, we expect a “feel-good” ending, but a few of the vignettes keep the saccharine element to a minimum. In fact, the first time I saw it, I was surprised there wasn’t a happy ending for everyone. And yet, there’s a sense of acceptance and resolution that goes beyond the superficial and makes those scenes very satisfying.

And the ending multi-split scene montage with the Beach Boys singing “God Only Knows” is dazzling. In fact, the entire sound track, including “Christmas is All Around You,” and “All I Want for Christmas is You” is a delight. I could go on for another page or so – I know I’ve probably left out someone’s favorite character, but you get the idea.

Color me sophomoric, sentimental, and riddled with guilt, but I love “Love Actually.”


Libby Fischer Hellmann is the award-winning author of the Ellie Foreman and Georgia Davis mystery series, and Nice Girl Does Noir, a two volume short story collection. She also edited the highly praised crime fiction anthology, Chicago Blues. She has lived in the Chicago area over thirty years. Set the Night on Fire is her first stand-alone novel. For more information go to the author’s website: