If Love Actually is one of your favourite holiday movies, your favourite romantic comedy, or just a movie that you even passively enjoy, stop reading this review right now, because I’m about to roast your fave and possibly hurt your feelings.
Still here? Well, I’ve never been one to mince words so, to put it frankly, Love Actually is trash, actually. Yeah, I know this movie is littered with an otherwise impressive all-star cast and it became an instant classic when upon its release, a true icon (as opposed to hand me down) of millennials, that it grossed about a quarter billion dollars worldwide, and it’s a film that, if you’ve temporarily shut your brain off or, are easily distracted by the colour hunter or scarlet, seems like it’s quite fantastic, but I promise you, this movie is basic at best and deeply disappointing at worst. I’ll show you how.
First off, the movie has eleven, yes eleven different story lines going on, not all of which intersect. What is even the point of putting so many stories and points of interest in one film? To distract you from how terrible they all are individually. You can barely even remember the characters names, because there are so fucking many, and just as you start to question one particular scenario, you’ll either be introduced to yet another, or thrown back into the drama of one of the prior scenes.
Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) is an narcissistic old rock star who hates his new single, a cover of “Love Is All Around”, but the song reaches the top spot on billboard charts. He’s still crabby, which his manager discerns as him just needing more affection. That’s it, folks. That’s literally all there is to Billy’s story. Riveting, ain’t it? While we hear the song throughout the film, we didn’t need to have this character introduced in order to do that. Why, other than cutting Nighy and Gregor Fisher (who plays his manager, Joe), was budget spent on this story? Possibly to cushion the bullshit of the nest story, that of Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Juliet (Keira Knightley), and Mark (Andrew Lincoln).
We meet these three on Peter and Juliet’s wedding day, where Mark, Peter’s best friend and the bets man, is pulling double duty as the wedding videographer. We immediately understand that, despite Peter and Juliet’s radiant joy, that something is really wrong here… with Mark. Once Juliet starts walking down the aisle, the wedding footage is filled with nothing but her, in close-up shots so close that you can see Juliet’s pores. It’s clear to the audience what was obviously lost on the newlyweds: Mark is unhealthily infatuated with Juliet. But rather than portray this as predatory, Love, Actually tells us that it is deeply romantic, how Mark is incredibly cold to Juliet in person out of “self-preservation”, while being secretly obsessed with her. Mark’s obsession culminates with him telling Juliet via cue card that he is in love with her, all without Peter’s knowledge. The audience is left to imagine that Juliet never tells Peter what has transpired, which can only mean that Mark’s desire to unburden his soul when nobody fucking asked him to has now brought a secret into her marriage. What a fantastic Christmas present!
You think this can’t get worse, but then it does. The next story centers around Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lucia Moniz). After discovering that his girlfriend and his brother are having an affair, Jamie retreats to his cottage and begins working on a new manuscript to distract himself from his broken heart. Though he’s there alone, Jamie hires a housekeeper, Aurelia, who is Portuguese and speaks no English, while he speaks no Portuguese. Despite this language barrier, Jamie “realizes” that he’s in love (read: lust), gets himself a Portuguese-English dictionary, and proposes marriage, which Aurelia accepts. The attraction Jamie has for Aurelia is evident, and Aurelia must have realized that a man who lived in England and owned a French cottage must have some kind of money, while she lived in in poverty, but seriously: love? These two get engaged when the only real communication they’ve had was a badly worded proposal. Prior to this, their most effective communication was in Jamie finding creative ways to show Aurelia what he wanted done around the house, as his housekeeper, his employee, his subordinate. They had never had a real conversation at all, let alone one as equals, but audiences are left applauding a relationship that will almost certainly end as soon as Aurelia learns to speak English. We are to believe that wistful, prolonged eye contact is the key to a healthy relationship. Bet.
The snowball of shit gets only larger when we meet Harry (Alan Rickman). Harry is happily married to Karen (Emma Thompson), whom has been his wife for many years and with home he shares an easy rapport and a happy home. Despite the fact that Karen is sweet, as well as an excellent mother to their children, Harry is feeling her age, as well as his own, and is flattered when his 20-something secretary, Mia (Heike Makatsch), begins flirting aggressively with him. So flattered is he that he reciprocates and exacerbates it, buying a Joni Mitchell CD for his wife for Christmas, but a diamond necklace for Mia. Though Karen discovers the almost-affair and confronts Harry, and we get to see an otherwise great marriage thrown into disarray. Really puts you in the holiday season, doesn’t it?
We don’t get a chance to really take in how one of the central characters has gotten her heart broken for the holidays because we quickly move on to Karen’s brother, David (Hugh Grant), the English Prime Minister, who becomes smitten with Natalie (Martine McCutheon), a junior member of his household staff. Though he keeps his feelings to himself and makes absolutely no attempt to tell her how he feels, for fear of being inappropriate (which is valid), David does take action, having Natalie moved to another job, when he finds her in a compromising situation while serving tea to the American president (Billy Bob Thornton). He walked into the room where Natalie, shamefaced, hurried out, while the President sat their looking like the world’s biggest creep, and didn’t once even bother to ask her if whatever happened in the room prior to his arrival had been consensual, if this man had hurt or molested her in any way. He simply sent the woman he “loved” away after she’d been stained by another man’s hands. Yup, Daniel is such a Nice Guy™ . Now, I’m not terribly surprised at this man because, with the exception of About A Boy and the Bridget Jones franchise, Grant habitually portrays slight variations of the exact same character, the presumably handsome, aw-shucks guy who has some measure of power and leverage but renders himself completely useless when the object of his affection needs him the most. What I am surprised at is how audiences champion his attempts to win her back later, even though he’d proven that he couldn’t always be counted on to defend her in front of men who were his equals. The man is in a position of power but is so incredibly weak. How tragic.
Daniel (Liam Neeson) is a widower who lost his girl, while his stepson, Sam (Thomas Sangster), a young boy smitten with a classmate goes about an beyond what all the other grown men in this movie did to get his crushes’ attention without disrespecting her autonomy and gets a kiss and a promise for his trouble. I have to be honest: Sam’s pursuit of Joanna (Olivia Olson) is the only truly beautiful love story in this entire film, as is only eclipsed by his stepfather’s encouragement and support.
The happiness we feel at such exuberant young love helps to cushion the blow of the next couple. Sarah (Laura Linney) almost gets her guy, Karl (Rodrigo Santoro), but the responsibilities of caring for her mentally ill brother, Michael, becomes the ultimate cockblock and she remains celibate for Christmas. Yea, that’s not depressing at all. I could tell you about the other sub plots but since they are all completely, mind-numbingly boring and were wholly unnecessary, let’s now. I’ll say in summary two other happy couple emerged from the mindless entertainment, and while they are fun enough to watch, their stories have said impact specifically because the previous “love” stories in Love Actually (with the exception of Sam and Joanna) either crashed and burned onscreen, or are clearly not gonna make it because they are tainted by circumstance. Love Actually actually features a lot of heartache, and not all of it remedied. I’ve give it some thought and I realize that the genius in this film is in how the tales of sorrow are spaced out, filled in with unrealistic love stories which eclipse the pain of those proceeding and preceding it. Basically: love, pain, rinse, repeat.
All that said, Love Actually is actually really enjoyable. Whether you’re watching it purely for entertainment, or from a more analytical point of view, this movie is an indisputable holiday classic, and the fact that it can do this despite (or perhaps because of?) the aforementioned is nothing short of a Christmas miracle. I give this one 4.25 stars.