Doodad Kind of Town

My Dinner With… Richard Curtis
January 12, 2008, 3:35 am
Filed under: Richard Curtis, Romantic Comedies

I’ve been invited by Marilyn of Ferdy on Films to participate in a meme called “My Dinner With… “(details here) in which I get to talk about a person in the film industry – past or present – with whom I’d like to dine. And I get to plan the dinner down to the last detail.

I tend to over-analyze my response to questions like this. The natural tendency is to pick a dinner companion from the list of geniuses you’ve always been most in awe of – for me, the list would include Billy Wilder, Frederico Fellini, Elia Kazan, Robert Altman, Martin Scorcese, Milos Forman, Mike Nichols (with or without Elaine May)- but I know I’d be too intimidated by them to even eat in their presence, let alone ask any meaningful questions. Because that’s just the kind of shy girl I am: even in a total fantasy scenario – where I control everything from the china pattern on the table to last bon mot in the conversation – I can’t picture myself anything but red-faced and tongue-tied in the presence of the greats. My celebrity interviews would be not so much “Inside the Actor’s Studio” as “The Chris Farley Show.”

So I’ve decided I would have dinner with Richard Curtis.

Curtis, of course, is the screenwriter responsible for “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” and the HBO film, “The Girl in the Cafe.” He also co-wrote the “Bridget Jones” movies, and both wrote and directed “Love, Actually.” (Less known to American audiences, but equally delightful is his first film “The Tall Guy” with Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson). His television work includes co-writing “Black Adder” and “Mr. Bean” with Rowan Atikinson, and creating “The Vicar of Dibley.”

Why Richard Curtis? The films he’s made (so far) certainly aren’t destined for the pantheon; they’re charming, but modest in their ambitions. But Curtis – an incurable optimist and a hopeless romantic – makes romantic comedies with genuine heart and wit. In an era when Hollywood cranks out formulaic, lackluster rom-coms every other weekend, Curtis’ work is a cut above. He’s successful and funny enough to be a fascinating dinner companion, but he doesn’t seem intimidating to me. Maybe that’s because so many of his films pivot on that rapturous moment when the stammering, awkward guy scores a date with the really cute girl. Somehow, I just assume that Curtis himself is that shy, yearning guy with a killer wisecrack at the ready behind that bumbling facade. Or sees himself as such, anyway.

I’m assuming I’d meet Mr. Curtis for dinner somewhere in my neck of the woods – that’d be the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I briefly considered taking him north to Wisconsin for dinner, just so he could experience the vast difference between what that state is really like and the fantasy bachelor’s paradise he depicts it to be in “Love, Actually.” But I reconsidered. Wisconsin might be a good after- dinner field trip, but for the main event, I’d take him to my favorite Chicago restaurant, the Atwood Cafe. Here the ambiance is comfortable and unpretentious, and the food is classic American comfort food with a contemporary twist. Curtis’ films have been a sort of cinematic equiavalent of comfort food to me over the years, so offering him the best of my country’s comfort food seems a good response. I’d recommend the house specialty – the chicken pot pie – or possibly the grilled chicken accompanied by wild mushroom bread pudding (the latter doesn’t appear on the menu anymore, but this is a fantasy, so I’m resurrecting my favorite Atwood dishes of the past). I’d have the waiter recommend a wine accompaniment, and if we were inclined to order dessert, I’d have us go for the brown sugar cheesecake with butterscotch sauce.

My questions to Mr. Curtis would be:

1. In American romantic comedies, the characters often find love as a result of transformation; the ugly duckling gets a makeover, the workaholic learns to relax, the doormat stands up for herself at last, and – boom! -their true love shows up and sweeps them away .

In your films, however, characters seem to find love in the midst of their imperfections and foibles. Their attempts at transformation are comically doomed to fail. (I’m thinking of William’s decision to stop looking for the “thunderbolt” and marry Henrietta in “Four Weddings in a Funeral,” or Bridget Jones’ aborted attempts at dieting and giving up smoking, for example).

Does this reflect a cultural difference between America and Britain? Or it is more reflective of your own personal take on love?

2. You’ve done a tremendous amount of charity work and fund-raising for poverty relief – you helped create Live Aid and Comic Relief, you’ve been to Africa on relief missions. What drew you to this charity work, and how has it enriched your own life and your writing?

3. You’ve said that your favorite film is Robert Altman’s “Nashville.” Was “Nashville” a conscious inspiration for you in writing and directing “Love Actually” (a similarly sprawling film with a very large, interconnected cast of characters.) And will we ever see a Director’s cut of “Love, Actually” with all the excised subplots and characters restored?

4. Ok, sorry, but I have to ask: why the dramatic changes between the original book “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” and the film version? Specifically, why is the Rebecca character changed from being hell-bent on stealing Mark Darcy into a beautiful lesbian whose sights are set on Bridget herself?

5. Your upcoming films are “The Number One Ladies Detective Agency” and “The Boat that Rocked” – neither of which looks to be a romantic comedy. Are you heading in a new direction? What kinds of films are you interested in making now?

I’m now supposed to pass this meme on to six other people for their responses. You’ll have to forgive me, but I’m fairly new in the blogosphere, and don’t think I know six bloggers well enough yes to pass this on. Please give me an extra day come up with my list and append it to this post.


6 Comments so far
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I got here by way of Lazy Eye Theatre and had to drop a note. Even though Curtis wouldn’t be my first choice for this meme, he *is* an inspired one — if for no other reason than I suspect he’d be a fab dinner companion. (Wouldn’t it suck to find out he was a dick in real life?)I recently wrote a LOVE ACTUALLY/Curtis piece for The House Next Door blog. Check it out here if you’re so inclined.

Comment by Ross Ruediger

Hi Ross!Thanks for ‘stopping by.’ I enoyed your post on “Love,Actually” – probably my favorite Richard Curtis flick, and definitely a holiday tradition for me. I felt the same way about the deleted scenes, which is why I’d love to see a Director’s Cut someday. (And from what I’ve read, Curtis is a genuinely nice guy.)

Comment by Pat

Pat – I really enjoyed this “dinner” and thought your questions were brilliant. I’m not a big fan of Curtis’ films, but I wouldn’t say the writing is the main reason. For some reason, even though I found it kind of lackluster, I find myself thinking about it a lot. That line they used in the commercial (“Stay forever.”) just resonates with me as one of the most romantic I’ve heard, and Hugh Grant says it perfectly.Thanks for being a part of the meme. I chose well.

Comment by Marilyn

Um that was about “Notting Hill”.

Comment by Marilyn

Thanks Marilyn!”Notting Hill” is actually probably my least favorite Curtis film – it does have some lovely moments (such as the one you mentioned), but it also has some AWFUL lines (“I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy – asking him to love her.” Groan!), plus I’m pretty resistant to the charms of Julia Roberts. I do enjoy Curtis’ optimism and romantic spirit, though.

Comment by Pat

I love your queries for Curtis. I actually know all the movies you are speaking of.Oh and ATWOOD!!! Scrump!Looking forward to Table 52 this weekend!

Comment by Parisjasmal

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