2003: A Hands Down Ode to Joy, Laughter, and Love, Actually

I have a bit of a reputation as a miser. Some of it is founded as, I’ll readily and proudly admit, I am a pessimist with no intention of ever changing my outlook on life. Scientific studies have been done to show that, for some people, being a pessimist is actually a helpful way to manage anxiety and stress. I do not see the good in everything because I pretty firmly believe there are things out there that are just not good. While I admire those that think every day is a gift, I can’t relate to it. Some days are struggles, some days are tests, and there are plenty of good ones mixed in too, but there are some I would certainly have done without if given the chance.

While I am very openly a pessimist, that doesn’t mean I am incapable of optimism, happiness, and joy. This whole blog series is really a giant love letter to the pop culture that helped shape who I am. While I often have things about them I find lacking, I still love and appreciate them. That is something I find a lot of people, especially in poker media, don’t seem to understand. You can like something or somebody just fine, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find places to criticize and try to improve. I am an editor at heart, so it will always be in my nature to critique.

Even so, I am still capable of that feeling of joy, that feeling which exceeds happiness, that rush that makes your heart feel like it is bubbling over and you smile so hard it hurts. Sappy as it may sound, it is not unlike the airport sequence of the oft-criticized movie Love, Actually. I will certainly criticize the glut of crappy ensemble romances like Valentine’s Day, He’s Just Not That Into You, and New Year’s Eve that came in the wake of this film’s success, but I am not on board with the number of people who criticize this Richard Curtis film as calculatingly sweet and saccharine enough to cause tooth decay.

Maybe I am just a marshmallow on the inside, but most of the six or seven stories in this film bring a smile to my face a dozen years after the movie first hit the big screen. Yes, I like many others, can’t really buy that Colin Firth’s character, a writer, would ever fall in love with a person who can literally not communicate with him because they don’t speak the same language, but the story is nonetheless funny even though deeply flawed in the logic department. Several of the stories are really just occasions for jokes, be it the nude stand ins or the geeky guy Colin who finds drop dead hot girls in America thanks to his accent.

Others are more modern fables, like the little boy in love with the little girl in his class. He does what all naïve young people do when trying to impress someone: pretend to be something you are not. He learns the drums, he puts himself out there, and he is rewarded with a first kiss and a role in one of the more memorable Christmas music performances in film history.

The one that always gets me to beam and tear up all at the same time is the one with Andrew Lincoln (pre-Walking Dead) and Keira Knightley. Lincoln’s character can’t help how he feels about his best friend’s new wife, Knightley, and he does his best to stay away until she figures out what is up and calls him on it. Rather than do the selfish thing and pursue her, he puts the love of his friend and the friend’s marriage to the girl ahead of himself, and he does so oh so adorably with poster board and a portable CD player.

You’ve probably surmised I am a bit of a sucker for unrequited love and cinematic grand gestures (I’m still waiting on that Chicago music video), but one so selfless takes the cake for me. I smile to see someone rewarded for their own sacrifice (and you can save the discussion that real sacrifice would never be saying anything, cause if he never said anything we wouldn’t have a movie). I tear up a little thinking he won’t end up with the girl, but I remain filled with joy at the thought of him getting what he wanted, and a simple kiss being more than enough.

So sure, I can be a sucker for the sugar-coated rom com moments, but I have to defend my miser street cred somehow. I do this with Arrested Development. I was early on this bandwagon, tuning in to watch each week around midway through Season 2. The episode delivered 22 minutes of hysterical nonsense as the Bluth family proved how awful humans can really be. Even the straight man, Michael (Jason Bateman) is kind of a terrible person, seducing a blind woman and an MRF, ignoring his family during times of need, and aiding and abetting several crimes over the course of the series run.

These people are horrible, selfish human beings and I love them for it. It is something I think Lena Dunham and Girls can take a cue from. My issue with that show is that everyone is terrible, horrible, and boring, so I really just want them to shut up and go away, hence, I don’t watch the show. It is when characters are horrible and endearing that the real comedic magic happens.

It isn’t just that this show reaffirms my faith that, in general, people kind of suck though. In fact, it has a very high opinion of its audience, as it will call back to small gestures from episodes aired weeks earlier or in a different season altogether and very subtly put them back into play. There is no wink wink, nod nod, nudge nudge, it is just left there for viewers to discover, and the feeling of catching it when it comes out of nowhere is a feeling of remarkable joy in addition to funniness. When they come at the rapid-fire pace of Arrested Development, you basically spend 22 minutes with your mouth agape at how these people can make every second so funny.

The fourth season is one I tried to like, but never could get into. I think in many ways, the constraint of being on a broadcast network like Fox helped this show immeasurably. It is in moments where you feel stuck that you can come up with the most creative solution, while in situations where the possibilities are limitless that oftentimes the results are mediocre. See? I am an optimist. I just took the worse of two situations and presented it as the better option. Or does that just reaffirm I’m a pessimist? I digress…

Sometimes I need a break from myself for, as you can see, I am constantly questioning things, criticizing myself and others, and worrying about things both in and beyond my control. Frankly, it can get a little exhausting, but that is what solo living room dance parties are for. I have an entire Spotify playlist of the songs I cannot help but get up and dance to when they are on.

One song is a solo dance party jam for me now, but in college, it was generally performed in groups. I was at the University of Southern California when Dashboard Confessional was peaking as a rock band and my friends and I were among his loyal faithful. We saw him in concert, we bought his merchandise, and we constantly played his music, especially the song Hands Down.

If you aren’t around precisely my age, you probably don’t know this song, but Dashboard’s Chris Carrabba says it is his best song. Unlike the sad emo hits you probably associate with Dash, this song is three minutes of pure, unadulterated happiness, the kind that comes with young love. In college, we would mutually agree to study dance breaks and my friend Stephanie and I would sing and dance to this song, loudly shouting the lyrics and exuberantly jumping up and down. When we weren’t studying and just hanging out or eating somewhere, our most cynical friend Vince would even get in on the fun by yelling out, “My hopes are so high that your kiss might kill me,” and we would retort, “So won’t you kill me. So I die ‘appy.”

If there is a single song I associate with my happiest memories of college, it is this one. It would score the montage of us saving up our meal plan to buy and eat four pounds of Runts while planning the world’s best love song mix CD, the time we tried to cook a “family” dinner and Steph bought steak instead of ground beef for our pasta dish, the time an intense pillow fight sent our friend Trevor to the ER, the Wet Hot American Summer parties, the trips to the low rent coffee shop for their off-brand “Zappacinos”, the time our friend was so intoxicated she insisted on only communicating in French, and all of those glorious football games.

There are songs that I associate with college that aren’t so joyous, but this is the one that no matter where, no matter when I hear it, I will stop, smile, and realize those were some pretty awesome times. Sure our hopes were high on how things would turn out and no one killed us with their kiss, but even though adulthood may have not been quite as exciting as we expected, I am still pretty sure we’re all going to die happy with the lives we lived.

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