We are halfway through December, nine days from Christmas, which means we’re well into Love, Actually season.
I first saw Love, Actually in the theatre when it came out. I was sixteen, and despite having to suffer the Worst Kiss Ever during the credits (seriously, like snogging a washing machine) I was a fan. I continued to be a fan for quite a long time.
So one month ago, for the first time in what must have been years, I put on the film I’d been pretty happily declaring the second best Christmas movie of all time (the first being, obviously, A Muppet Christmas Carol) and settled in to enjoy some pre-festive love and fuzziness.
I got fifty-six minutes into it before I had to turn it off.
Love, Actually is one of the least romantic movies I have ever seen. Almost nothing pleasant happens, beyond Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman being on screen together again. And even that’s not pleasant, because he’s completely awful to her.
Let’s recap some of the story lines:
The Actually Incompetent Prime Minister: Hugh Grant um’s and ah’s his way into politics, develops a crush on his cute gutter-mouth tea lady (who confides being treated terribly by her ex-boyfriend and is repeatedly called fat by another character), walks in on the US President sexually harassing her, fires her for it, sort of declares war on America because jealousy (instead of just saying ‘Hey, the President is a sex pest using his powerful position to prey on my staff, I don’t want to deal with him until he stops being such a skeaze’) and has a dance. And then after she declares her feelings (rather than intent to sue for wrongful termination) in a card, he dashes around the working class streets of London to find her.
The Actually Terrible Husband: Alan Rickman has the best wife in the world (Emma Thompson) but she talks about boring domestic things and a lady with sharp hair (overtly but without any words because this is a repressed British movie) hints that she might sleep with him so he buys her a necklace and breaks Emma Thompson’s heart, she confronts him and they decide to stay together ergo love. Even though in the coda Emma Thompson looks like she’s planning to murder him and everyone around her.
Actually The Worst Best Friend Ever: Rick Grimes apparently hates Keira Knightly, who has just married his best friend Chiwetel Ejiofor, who gets about two lines of dialogue in the whole film. But then she sees a video he shot at their wedding and it’s entirely close ups of her (and I mean close ups) and realises he’s been in love with her the whole time. He turns up on their doorstep later and, with Best Friend Chiwetel inside the house at the time, confesses his love and she rewards him with one kiss (it’s totally not cheating if he came with flashcards). The rest of their lives made suitably awkward, he wanders off to spend the night with the creepy Keira Knightly video.
The Actually Delusional Sad Act: Annoying and disgusting manchild thinks he’s not getting sex because British women are too uptight and believes that going to America will fix everything because American women are all hot and willing to have sex with anything. He does, and they are.
Actually Marrying Someone He’s Never Spoken To: Colin Firth’s wife cheats on him with his brother, so he goes to France to work on a novel (on a typewriter, by a lake, in a breeze… there is a reason we only rewind one of Colin Firth’s now many wet shirt scenes) and falls for his young, beautiful but non-English speaking Portuguese housemaid. They fall in love and get married, because young hotness and old Colin Firthness defies all language barriers.
Her Mentally Ill Brother Is Actually Ruining Her Life: Apparently as useless at work as she is in her personal life, the always on her phone Laura Linney is madly in love with crazy hot Rodrigo Santoro (and why wouldn’t she be?). After two years of complete indifference, Rodrigo decides ‘why not’ at the Christmas party and they get together, only for her phone to keep ringing. She answers, he leaves, and we find out the caller is her mentally ill brother. While the love in this section is clearly with her brother, not the hot dude, the brother is introduced late as an ‘Oooh, so that’s why her life is so shit,’ rather than tackling or portraying the relationship between someone suffering from mental illness (it’s never specified) and the person who loves them in any interesting or meaningful way.
I’m not saying Love, Actually is a flat out awful movie. I’m definitely not saying that it’s not funny – because it is. And not every storyline in the film is troubling: Bill Nighy’s story is hilarious and genuinely touching (Richard Curtis is much better at writing heartwarming and poignant moments between men than men and women, and I’ll stand by that). The Liam Neeson storyline with baby Jojen Reed is sweet, and Marceline completely steals the show. The Martin Freeman nude storyline is a bit weird, but pretty cute.
The ensemble cast for the whole film is fantastic, and it helps save a lot of the crappier moments. I’m not even anti-Richard Curtis. Notting Hill is one of my favourite sappy films.
But as I’ve said, this is not a romantic movie. A romantic movie is supposed to leave you gagging with jealousy or squishy with love, hoping that some day that kind of love finds you or glad that it did. Even tragic romances have to have something beautiful to get them to the devastating part.
And if this is what it does for you, then great! But Love, Actually just leaves me grateful to be single, because if that’s the kind of love I’m supposed to aspire to, I’ll stick with the frog.