This article is part of The Daly Planet Presents: The Twelve Days Of Christmas Movies, a daily series leading up to Christmas Eve 2015. To see all other entries click here.
I saw Love Actually in the theater when it was first released 12 years ago. I’m not one much for romantic comedies, but I remembering it being cute and heartwarming. At the time, the concept of a large ensemble cast with several intertwined stories centering around a holiday was something of a novelty, now being shamelessly copied by bad-looking movies I haven’t seen like Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. (Coming in 2016: Mother’s Day. This is not a joke.) For some Love Actually has entered the canon of Christmas classics; others have found serious fault with the film. So I rewatched it to decide for myself, and I have to say looking at it the film with a critical eye pretty much ruins it. Love Actually is actually sexist and ridiculous, and most of the storylines earn some serious roll eye from me.
The story is narrated by Awkward Prime Minister Hugh Grant, who has just taken office, reminding us that “Love actually is all around us.” Awkward PM, who is fortunately unmarried, takes a shine to “fat” errand girl British Monica Lewinsky. British Monica’s defining characteristics are her propensity for foul language combined with her ginormous ass, which is derided constantly by everyone except Awkward PM, who we are led to believe has some kind of a fat girl fetish. British Monica gets sexually harassed by President Billy Bob, who I guess also has a fat girl fetish, and Awkward PM suddenly takes a firm stance against the US in a ludicrous speech, because jeopardizing important diplomatic relationships because someone touched “your” girl makes perfect sense. There are some cute/funny moments, if you can overlook the dumb fat jokes about a person who is objectively not fat and the inherent squickiness of a powerful man pursuing a relationship with a much younger subordinate.
The funniest storyline is that of Aging Rock Star Bill Nighy attempting to get a Christmas remake of his classic song to the top of the charts. Aging Rock Star is shamelessly honest about his intentions and never hesitates to acknowledge the song is crap and he’s just trying to make some cash and beat out the boy bands for the top slot. This storyline has no romance plot and the “love story” is the appreciation that Aging Rock Star has for his manager, when he’s not constantly insulting his appearance. Because fat jokes amirite? Dehumanizing people based on their weight NEVER gets old.
Then we have the love triangle of Shameless Whore, Cheating Snape, and his Long-Suffering Wife . Shameless Whore is Cheating Snape’s secretary and she seems to have no function beyond making nauseating passes at her boss. Why? Who knows? The character is not developed at all and seems to be a sex robot dropped on earth for the sole purpose of tempting Snape. You’d think her behavior constitutes sexual harassment but then Snape starts reciprocating so I’m not sure if it counts.
Emma Thompson’s Long-Suffering Wife is the most realistic character in the entire movie, but her storyline is the most depressing. She discovers Cheating Snape’s infidelity when she realizes that her present is a lame cd and surmises the expensive necklace she discovered in her husband’s pocket was actually given to someone else. Instead of losing it in front of everyone, she excuses herself to her room to cry and then composes herself to make sure that Christmas isn’t ruined for her kids. This is literally the only moment in the film where I felt anything beyond mild amusement or annoyance. Long-Suffering Wife is also the only female character that has any significant personality or development but unfortunately her romantic prospects are grim.
Long-suffering Wife’s BFF is Taken Dad, who has just lost his wife and has custody of his inscrutable 10 year old stepson, Adorable Jojen Reed, who spends all of his time locked in his room and refusing to talk. Grieving his mother? Hahaha, no. He’s just lusting after a girl at school who has the same name as his mother, but refuses to address this issue by actually talking to her. In this vignette, Taken Dad and Adorable Jojen Reed bond over love and romance in totally inappropriate ways and never once discuss the whole dead mom thing. Both are rewarded at the end with their dream girl – Taken Dad’s is Claudia Schiffer.
It’s hard to decide which romance is the most disturbing, but the one between Worse Best Friend Ever and Keira Knightly is pretty memorable. Keira finds out WBFE has been pretending to hate her while actually staring at her longingly this whole time, but instead of telling her husband and setting some boundaries, she ignores the issue. Then when he creepily shows up on Christmas Eve to profess his love, she rewards him with a kiss. I’m just going to say it…sometimes honesty is not the best policy. If you’re in love with a person who is happily married, you need to keep it the hell to yourself. It’s not cute, it’s not romantic, it’s just awkward and weird.
In most of these relationships, it’s not clear what the couple sees in each other besides hotness, since they pretty much never have an actual conversation. Loyal Sister Laura Linney has been “in love” with her Hot Abs Guy co-worker for years, and everyone in the office knows it, including Hot Abs Guy. But for some reason, the two have never gotten together, and it’s up to Loyal Sister to make the first move. Unfortunately, Loyal Sister’s disturbed brother is institutionalized in the ONLY MENTAL HOSPITAL IN THE ENTIRE WORLD where residents get unlimited, all-hours access to phones, and he calls her incessantly. After a Christmas party in which Loyal Sister and Hot Abs Guy barely exchange words, they decide to return to her apartment to bang. Regrettably, her brother won’t stop calling and ruining the mood. Loyal Sister chooses comforting her brother instead of getting laid and is presumed to be stuck alone forever.
In another inexplicable romance, a Cuckolded Writer goes off to France to work on a novel. His rental house comes with a Hot Housekeeper who speaks only Portuguese. You’d think the housekeeping tasks necessary for a single adult man who sits at a typewriter all day would be really limited, but Hot Housekeeper hangs around the house all day, bringing him drinks or something. The two attempt to talk to each other, but lacking a common language, communication is nonexistent. But she is pretty and has a nonoffensive personality so of course, they are In Love. He returns to England; they attempt to learn the other’s language and he comes back to propose, because naturally marriage is the next logical step for someone you’ve never had a conversation with. Incidentally Hot Housekeeper has a Fat Sister because this movie really needed some more fat jokes.
But this kind of cheesy, overwrought romance is small potatoes compared to the displaced porn plot that somehow ended up in a regular movie. Dickish Prat can’t figure out why women aren’t begging to have sex with him, considering his treasure trove of lame pickup lines. Even Shameless Whore blows him off when he refers to her as “future wife” while delivering sandwiches. If only he could go to the US, where women are less stuck up and begging to sleep with any guy with an accent who walks in the door. And then exactly that happens. He flies to Wisconsin, shows up at a bar, immediately picks up three women, and they go back to their place to have an orgy, along with a 4th roommate “the sexy one.” Not only that, Dickish Prat brings her and her sister back to England. Are they there for a visit? Or permanent mail order brides who are going to be very disappointed when they realize their intendeds don’t actually have any money? We just don’t know. This isn’t funny, it’s just dumb and insulting.
The only sweet and somewhat believable romance in the movie concerns a couple of body doubles – Bilbo Baggins and Judy. Although the two begin their relationship simulating sex with each other, they have actual conversations. The mundanity of their discussions combined with the fact that they are unclothed and pretending to have sex is actually a pretty neat contrast. It’s also interesting how innocent and overly polite both of them seem. They don’t get nearly as much screen time as many of the other couples, but in my opinion, they have the best shot at actually staying together.
Here are my takeaways:
- Women’s worth depends on their youth and beauty. Personality and conversation are secondary.
- Love is all about appearances. You don’t need to talk much to have True Love!
- It’s better to solve problems by Grand Romantic Gestures rather than just calling someone up and telling them how you feel.
- Fat people are bad and everyone hates them.
Love Actually is a cute movie if you don’t really think about it too much. Suspend your disbelief, pretend you’re a man or a really hot woman, and maybe you can even enjoy it. Look at the pretty pictures, listen to the nice soundtrack and let your brain take a vacation. But once you start to examine the storylines and characters, it all starts to fall apart. Personally, I’m still looking for that modern Christmas classic that is worth rewatching. I like to think that in the 12 years since Love Actually was released, we’ve made great strides in comedy that is more diverse and doesn’t need to rely on sexism and fat jokes for laughs. For now, I guess I’ll just stick with kids’ movies.