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Friday Film Review: Love Actually

Love Actually (2003)
Genre: Romance/slice of life
Grade: B+

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around.”

Here’s a movie I hadn’t watched in years and was actually a bit afraid to revisit for fear it wouldn’t hold up to my fading memories. Not to worry. It’s just as good the second and now third time around. The world loves a love story and this is a whole movie full of them. Most happy but some, er, less happy to go along with them. It’s a wonderfully intersecting series of subplots which we often aren’t given all the information about until much later in the film. Which I personally like but which also makes you pay attention to catch all the details.

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It’s full of fantastic actors who are all totally believable in their roles, something which in the past had sometimes been a problem for me, especially with the old style 1960s/1970s blockbusters that Hollywood used to crank out. But here they’re all marvelous. With so many to choose from it’s hard to pick favorites but Emma Thompson, Rowan Atkinson, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson and Bill Nighy are all outstanding. Watch Emma fight back the realization of her failing marriage as Joni Mitchell sings of love from both sides now. See Laura’s heart break when she faces the fact that her family obligations will keep her from the man she loves. Laugh out loud as Rowan wraps and wraps and wraps a Christmas present in Selfridges. Marvel at the delicate relationship between Liam and his stepson as they tackle the intricacies of first love. And Nighy rules with his portrayal of an ex-heroin addict ‘has been’ rock star shamelessly out for a comeback who will say anything during his promotional appearances.

It’s also hard for me to pick which subplot I like best but top contenders are Colin the Love God on Shag Highway to Wisconsin! I’m sure the director didn’t understand why Americans laughed so hard about that choice of state. Then there’s Colin Firth finding love with a woman who doesn’t even speak English, the porn movie stand-in couple who are actually the sweetest ones in the movie, and Hugh Grant in the silly, fun role of the Prime Minister who’s got the dance moves of Downing Street.

The opening and closing sequences are gold as well. Mostly just ordinary people, happily meeting loved and dear ones after jumping through the modern hoops required to fly these days. And the music is fantastic as are the sea creature costumes worn by the school children in the nativity play. What? You didn’t know there were lobsters, an octopus and a whale at the birth of Jesus? Bill Nighy is given some amazing suits which are almost as funny as the foreign language class scene of Firth trying to learn Portuguese. A question: Is Wandsworth really dodgy? It looked okay to me. And can anyone tell me if the Portuguese proposal is really as butchered as the subtitles make it out to be? I will admit to also smiling through a tear or two at this grand romantic gesture.

But what really makes the movie for me is that not all of the romances work out. Sounds odd, I know but if everyone had ended up with a HEA it would have been too sappy for me to stomach. Life isn’t always fair is it but when it does work out, it’s all the sweeter. So what are your favorite actors, scenes or plot threads? B+

All together now! “I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes…”

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

57 Comments

  1. Bonnie Dee
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 05:19:40

    Love Actually is a long time favorite. I don’t think there’s one misstep. I love all the stories.
    Recently I watched Valentine’s Day, which critics panned as trying to be Love Actually and failing miserably. I didn’t think it was all that horrible and liked parts of it very much.I guess I’m a sucker for movies with ensemble casts and intersecting plots.

  2. Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 05:26:39

    Love love love Love Actually. Makes me laugh and cry, my ultimate goals for a good book/movie. (not necessarily in that order)Now I’m desperate to see it TODAY, but unless Netflix has the Watch Instantly feature and my family disappears, I’ll have to be satisfied with your review. :)

  3. Jayne
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 05:47:23

    @Bonnie Dee: I have Valentine’s Day in the old Netflix queue and had also heard the negatives about it. I’ll have to see if it’s better for me too.

  4. Jayne
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 05:49:43

    @Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe: Sorry but it doesn’t look as if there’s a streaming choice for it at Netflix. There should be at this time of year, don’t you think?

  5. Vi
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 06:08:06

    I adore this movie! I’ve even watched the version with the director’s commentary as well as the deleted scenes.

    It’s tough to watch it now for Liam Neeson’s character, as he now a widower also. The scene with Emma Thompson breaking down in her bedroom as Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now plays always breaks my heart.

  6. Jayne
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 06:12:30

    @Vi: I just recently watched it with the commentary as well. I have to say that Hugh Grant always does a wonderful job on these things. Very witty and funny.

    As I said, I hadn’t rewatched it in a few years and the Liam Neeson aspect hit me too. One of those “cold shivers” moments.

  7. library addict
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 06:22:33

    I really enjoyed this movie, even though I do not like all of the subplots (I'm not a fan of the Laura Linney storyline, even though I think she's a wonderful actress. Also wasn't too keen on the Kris Marshall in America one.)

    Chiwetel Ejiofor and Keira Knightley are fun as the newlyweds, even though they have very little screen time and I'm not at all sure they truly get a HEA given what happens.

    But it is Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, and Colin Firth who make the movie for me. The Hugh Grant subplot is totally unrealistic, but he makes it work. I think Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson's plot may actually be my favorite even though I want to whack him upside the head at many points in the movie. Such wonderful performances from them both. And the Liam Neeson and Colin Firth storylines are both poignant and laugh-out-loud funny.

    Now you've put in the mood to rewatch this.

  8. Jayne
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 06:33:26

    @library addict: I wish Chiwetel Ejiofor had had more screen time too. Loved him in “Dirty, Pretty Things.”

    I wanted to smack Rickman’s character too. How can he fall for that little tart when he’s got Emma Thompson at home?!

    And Hugh Grant seems to have a knack for making silly plots work.

  9. Danielle D
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 06:44:46

    This is one of my favorite movies, I love Hugh Grant in this movie!

  10. Sandra
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 08:21:02

    I love this movie. I saw it when it first came out, bought the DVD and watch it often.

    How can it go wrong? It’s got four of my favorite, drool-worthy, see anything they’re in, actors in Grant, Neeson, Rickman, and Firth, all in one place. It’s got the fabulous Emma Thompson. It’s got Hugh Grant dancing to the Pointer Sisters. It’s got the Beach Boys over the closing credits. It’s got Joni Mitchell, along with the rest of the wonderful soundtrack (which I bought, as well).

    I’ve gone off Keira Knightly the last few years, but this movie also introduced me to Bill Nighy, Martin Freeman and Thomas Sangster.

    And for those who can’t keep track, the movie’s article at Wikipedia even has a chart detailing all the relationships.

    Forget the bag full of books I bought from the UBS to get me through the holidays. I’m off to fire up the DVD player.

  11. Juliana Stone
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 08:32:27

    I just watched this movie last weekend with my girlfriends. We always watch it at Christmas. I love everything about it and have to say Bill Nighy was wonderful. I cried for Emma and for Laura Linney’s character (who wouldn’t, Carl was freaking hot!) They don’t make enough of these movies….

  12. Jaci Burton
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 08:36:02

    I absolutely love this movie so much I bought the DVD so I can watch it every Christmas season. It’s one of the first ones I pop in to put me into the holiday spirit.

    I love Bill Nighy, and his realization about the love of his life are classic. Hugh Grant’s scenes are classic, as are Firth’s. And of course there’s Rickman. I love Rickman, even though he’s such a tool in this movie. Such a delicious ensemble of great acting, it makes me laugh and cry every single time. It’s one of my favorite holiday movies.

  13. jody
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 08:39:51

    Thank you, Jayne, from a not so patient grasshopper!

    This is my all time favorite Christmas (or any other time of year) movie.

    I added a lobster and an octopus to our mantel manger scene this year. :)

  14. Jayne
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 08:59:32

    @jody: I would flat out love to see a pic of that manger scene! Where did you get “to scale” critters for it?

  15. Bookworm1858
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 09:00:33

    I just rewatched this earlier in the month. My favorite plot is Hugh Grant-I adore him and his story is just so cute.

  16. Jayne
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 09:16:39

    @Jaci Burton: Nighy is fabulous through the whole movie. I can’t think of a movie I’ve seen him in in which he wasn’t.

  17. Jayne
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 09:20:03

    @Juliana Stone:

    (who wouldn't, Carl was freaking hot!)

    Isn’t he totally drool worthy? If I had him in my apartment, I would have done a happy dance too.

  18. Jayne
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 09:21:59

    @Sandra: I love the Beach Boys over the credits. Love, love, love.

  19. JulieB
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 09:48:03

    Hate to just add a “me too!” post, but this is one of our favorite movies. The writing is clever, the acting is wonderful, and it all just pulls together. I agree that the movie would have been too much if every relationship was HEA. And Bill Nighy just makes that film for me. Okay, and the porn stand-in couple. And…you get the idea.

  20. Angie
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 09:51:11

    I love Liam Neeson, and he was wonderful in this. His “So you’re basically fucked, then?” line (from memory — probably a bit different but that’s the gist) was perfect. He’s treating his stepson like another guy, giving him the respect he’d give a much older guy who is (or thinks he’s) in love with an unattainable girl. Much better then a pat on the head and the platitudes one usually gives kids. But it was a tough situation, and seeing him trying so hard to help his stepson with a problem that really has no good solution really hit home. He’s a great actor, and I’d like to think he’s that cool a guy in person, too.

    The Alan Rickman/Emma Thompson sequence was also full of win. Another awful situation. I wanted to smack Rickman, and hug Thompson — hurting so much but trying so hard not to ruin her family’s Christmas.

    Hugh Grant’s thread was silly but fun; I’ve always like him.

    Rowan Atkinson was hilarious, but then he always is. :) I’ve been a fan of his since Blackadder.

    The guys on a road trip to get it on with snowbunnies was probably my least favorite bit. It wasn’t bad, but more of a “Okay, whatever” kind of piece.

    Great movie — definitely one of my favorite romantic films.

    Angie

  21. Jayne
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 09:57:30

    @Angie:

    Rowan Atkinson was hilarious, but then he always is. :) I've been a fan of his since Blackadder.

    I’m going to have to use his “tis but the work of a moment” line the next time someone is rushing me for something.

  22. Jayne
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 09:58:50

    @JulieB: Billy Mack: Hiya kids. Here is an important message from your Uncle Bill. Don’t buy drugs. Become a pop star, and they give you them for free.

  23. Lynne Connolly
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 10:43:13

    Love this film. Perfect choice for a Christmas blog.
    It’s Bill Nighy for me. Awesome, and so, so funny. I love the idea of him not caring any more, and I love the bromance, too.

  24. Angela
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 11:32:32

    I actually just saw this movie for the first time earlier this year, and really loved it.

    Now you’re making me want to watch it again and I don’t have it! Dare I brave a trip to the store today to pick it up?

    I couldn’t stop laughing about the trip to Wisconsin (I’m from Wisconsin). But I think the storylines that stick with me most are Liam Neeson’s and Alan Rickman & Emma Thompson.

  25. Elyssa Papa
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 11:56:06

    I love love love this movie, too. I’m actually planning to watch it tonight. I love the Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, and Bill Nighy storylines. What I like about Liam Neeson’s storyline, besides the relationship with his stepson (who was so freaking adorable), is the running joke about him liking Claudia Schiffer and then what happens after the Christmas pagent was absolutely fantastic.
    I seriously have a crush on Bill Nighy from this movie–plus he’s pretty hot in Underworld, too. His rock star character was so much fun–after all, I think there’s always a part where you think I so wish I could say x and not give a f*ck.

    And the proposal scene is funny and poignant, which I think also sums up the film. I also wish there were more Love Actually type of films; the wannabe LA movie, Valentine’s Day, didn’t work at all for me.

  26. Isobel Carr
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 11:57:00

    Clearly I’m in the minority, but I loathed this movie (and so did all my girlfriends). It left me depressed and angry.

    The only couples I cared about had bad or non endings. The Alan Rickman/Emma Thompson cheating thing and the horror of Laura Linney being unable to have any kind of personal life at all.

  27. LizC
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 13:44:06

    I absolutely recommend watching this with the commentary at least once. It’s worth it just for Hugh Grant mocking Colin Firth a lot.

    I watch this movie a lot during the holidays. It’s a tradition to do a first viewing on December 1 and then watch it periodically throughout the month.

  28. Marie
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 14:02:14

    To those who have never watched the deleted scenes – please do so! There were other storylines that got cut b/c of time constraints that are just as good. I would love to see a director’s cut some day.

    I was studying abroad in Spain when this movie came out there. It was, of course, dubbed into Spanish – no subtitles – and my Spanish was bad enough at the time I could only catch a word or two, so I couldn’t really follow along with what they were saying (if the mouths had matched the words, I’d’ve had a shot, but dubbed, not so much). However, I loved it anyway! I missed out on the brilliance of some of the dialogue, but the story lines were still pretty clear. I bought it when I got home and it is now one of my favorite movies, and I pull it out every Xmas to watch.

    What I love most about the movie is the way that certain storylines don’t work out, and it shows that love isn’t always this happy, frothy, perfect thing. (The storyline with Mark in love with his best friend’s new wife is probably my favorite of the entire movie, strangely enough.)

  29. Sunita
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 14:03:07

    @LizC: Oh, the commentary is fantastic!

    This is such a shamelessly manipulative movie. And I find Thomas Sangster so annoying. But I love love love it. We will watch it again this weekend.

    The Emma Thompson scene w/the CD is astoundingly good. And the Laura Linney storyline makes me so uncomfortable I have trouble watching it. Almost all of the actors really elevate the material.

    And the sweaters, especially Liam Neeson’s and Emma Thompson’s. Only good cashmere drapes like that.

    Thanks, Jayne!

  30. wendy
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 14:28:11

    Yes, I was walking around channelling Bill Nighy and feeling it in my fingers etc yesterday.
    I didn’t like the Keira Knightly/Andrew- out-of-teachers section but loved the rest.
    This is my Christmas movie and Die Hard is my DH’s.

  31. FiaQ
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 14:29:43

    I absolutely can’t stand Martine McCutcheon (a very well known soap star cum singer over here). My adoration of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Gregor Fisher (aka Rab C. Nesbitt), and Bill Nighy solidified my willingness to tolerate McCutcheon’s existence for an hour had me seeing it on DVD.

    (I ended up fast-forwarding every scene McCutcheon was in after the first scene had me twitching and itching for a kitchen knife.)

    I found all stories interesting but rather dissatisfying. I think the one that worked best was Liam Neeson and his step-son. Overall, it’s a bit like having a buffet instead of a proper meal, really, isn’t it?

  32. jody
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 14:29:51

    @Jayne:

    Well, they’re not exactly to scale. Actually, they’re pretty big. I had to prop the lobster behind the stable so he’s kind of peering over the roof, and the octopus is to the side of the stable porch half buried in cotton so he doesn’t loom so much. Or look quite so purple.

    The manger scene now drives Mr. Jody crazy, but he does concede the truth of the incontrovertible evidence that of course there was at least one lobster and one octopus at the First Christmas. Didn’t Love Actually tell us so?

    And I got both of them on eBay. If I could find my digital camera or figure out how to post a picture I would.

    Merry Christmas to all!

  33. Sunita
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 14:48:13

    @FiaQ: Forgot to add, I will watch Bill Nighy in anything. His and Gregor Fisher’s relationship, and their scene at the end, is so good. It was my favorite storyline.

    And Chewy deserves better than Keira, but that’s just me.

  34. Sunita
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 14:50:08

    @FiaQ: I have the same reaction to Kris Allen that you do to Martine McCutcheon. The women of Wisconsin deserve better.

  35. Sunita
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 14:50:47

    @Sunita: Stupid me, I mean Kris Marshall.

  36. Lori S.
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 15:40:39

    I watch this movie every Christmas. It never fails to make me laugh, make me cry, make me yell “for the love of God, turn off the phone!”

  37. Kristen A.
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 15:50:42

    I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one with a crush on Bill Nighy in this (and a couple of other things). I love the bromance, plus he has the most magnificent string of cursing I’ve ever heard.

  38. Kristen A.
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 15:52:33

    Well, I screwed that up pretty badly. That was what I meant to say, and not what I was trying to quote.

    Not a big enough mistake to motivate me to quote Billy Mack, however. ;)

  39. FiaQ
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 16:11:55

    @Sunita: Tell me you love Still Crazy. Bill Nighy was fantastic in that film.

    For those who aren’t sure about whether to check it out, here are some quotes from Still Crazy:

    (Bill Nighy is Ray, an aged and highly neurotic rock star (a cross between Mick ‘free the butterflies while I quote a poem to honour poor dead Brian…oops, half of those butterflies are dead’ Jagger and David ‘Ziggy Stardust’ Bowie).
    Helena Bergström is Astrid, Ray’s ambitious but long-suffering young wife. Karen is the band manager of Ray’s reunited band.)

    Astrid: Karen will get plane tickets, just give her your credit card number.
    Ray: I don’t know my credit card number.
    Astrid: It’s on your credit card, Ray.

    Karen: Tell me Astrid, how are Kirby, Steele and Oakes?
    Astrid: I don’t listen to their music.
    Karen: They’re your estate agents, the ones trying to offload Wuthering Heights, so don’t pretend you don’t need this.
    Astrid: You are a bloody nosy bitch Karen, and also a slut. I remember Isle of Wight.

    I have to watch this film tonight, especially for the Ray and his hairdryer scene. Sorry for derailing the discussion. *cough* Docheckoutstillcrazythough *cough*

  40. Laura
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 17:14:37

    @Jayne:

    Ha! I was waiting for my dad the other day and he told me to be patient, he’d be “back in the flashest of flashes”.

  41. Kate Pearce
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 18:22:31

    I went to see this at the movies when it came out and it is always memorable for me because I’m rarely late for anything and I was so engrossed watching this movie that I was late picking my kids up from school!! They always remind me of this fact whenever they see the DVD. LOL

    I love this movie because it shows all kinds of love and all kinds of endings and that felt so much more real to me than a lot of so-called romantic movies.

    (And I decided that Alan Rickman fired his P.A. when he got back to work. :))

  42. Jayne
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 18:56:37

    @jody: So the lobster is lurking like something from a 1950s horror film? Please do look for your camera as this sounds priceless.

  43. Jayne
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 18:57:36

    @Kate Pearce: Yeah, I think he fired her too. But from the last scene, Emma clearly hasn’t forgiven him yet and he’s still working his way out of the doghouse.

  44. Jayne
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 18:59:37

    @Kristen A.: Love the cursing too. And everyone just stands there like it’s nothing new to them. ;)

  45. Jayne
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 19:00:37

    @Lori S.: OMG, that phone would be so smashed against the wall. Bro can wait for a night.

  46. Jayne
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 19:05:27

    @FiaQ: It’s funny but when I first watched the film, Martine McCutcheon’s character seemed rather silly to me. I still enjoy that storyline just because Hugh Grant makes his part interesting but I think he deserves better and still wonder what his character is supposed to see in her.

  47. pamelia
    Dec 24, 2010 @ 20:20:41

    Love love love this movie. I dislike the Keira Knightly bit the most. I adore the Colin Firth part and the kid at the airport too. Laura Linney’s storyline really makes me sad, but at the same time I can’t help but admire her for being there for her brother.

  48. Lobo
    Dec 25, 2010 @ 10:59:44

    This is one of my favourites film also and whenever I want to re-watch it my man is also by me and we fall for the whole thing again.
    From the first time I saw it I thought the best scene was when Emma Thompson’s character finds out about where that Xmas heart went. She retreats to her room crying silently while Joni Mithcell sings. That scene breaks my heart every time.

  49. Ashley March
    Dec 25, 2010 @ 23:34:31

    I think I’ve watched this movie 4 times in the past month, including once with the director’s commentary. My favorite part of the whole movie is when Keira’s character shows up at Marc’s place and asks to see her wedding video. I don’t really care for her character, but watching his face as they’re watching it and later his reaction outside makes my chest hurt every time. So glad the actor (I believe Andrew is his name) is getting the cred he deserves with the new zombie TV series.

  50. Sami Lee
    Dec 26, 2010 @ 00:33:37

    This is one of my all time favorite movies. The Colin Firth storyline is the clincher for me, but that could be my Colin Firth crush talking. I also think the fact that not all the storylines end in a HEA saves this from sappiness, even though I so wished Laura Linney could have had at least ONE FREAKING NIGHT with that cutie before it was over. Sigh.

    And I’m from Australia, so I don’t get the Wisconsin joke??? Anyone willing to let me in?

  51. Kristen A.
    Dec 26, 2010 @ 14:59:27

    @Sami Lee

    Wisconsin is known for cheese, cows, and not much else. Definitely not the destination of choice if you’re out for a wild adventure.

  52. Sami Lee
    Dec 26, 2010 @ 19:18:26

    @Kristen A.

    Thanks :). I should have realised it from ‘That 70’s Show’.

  53. Laura Florand
    Dec 27, 2010 @ 18:40:13

    Great holiday choice! :) We love this movie, too.

  54. Jennifer
    Dec 27, 2010 @ 21:38:17

    Ack. I’m so ambivalent about this movie. I enjoy it for the many reasons listed above—especially the Liam Neeson character and his stepson. BUT, I always feel a little angry with myself, too. After all, this is a movie where the only desirable women are secretaries or stacked blondes. It just makes me sort of angry for some reason, because it just seems to view women through a lens that’s so stuck in the 1950s.

    Also, the fat jokes about the non-fat secretary that falls in love with Hugh Grant? They are horrifying.

    Sigh.

  55. olivia
    Dec 28, 2010 @ 15:37:30

    I never got much enjoyment out of the Wisconsin part until January Jones found fame as Betty Draper.
    But overall, the movie is a total treat. Every single time I’ve viewed it.

  56. Lexxie Couper
    Dec 29, 2010 @ 03:39:19

    Oh, this is my third favourite film ever (and my favourite rom-com full stop). I love all the story lines (have kinda lived the Keira Knightly one, except I ended up marrying my fiance at the time’s best friend rather than just kissing him in the street and running away).

    But my favourite story is Colin Firth’s. Not just because I love Colin with all my heart (I dedicate every Friday to him on my blog) but because his uncertainty and stumbling proposal (so unlike Mr Darcy and Mark Darcy) is so bloody romantic I get the shivers every time I watch the film.

  57. orannia
    Jan 02, 2011 @ 23:20:31

    I love this movie. All the storylines tug at the heartstrings, but mostly it was Laura Linney’s character that had me sobbing uncontrollably as I could see too many similarities between us to be comfortable (no Carl unfortunately :)

    In my head I have them getting together the next Christmas.

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