Apparently, there’s a fairly massive internet debate raging at the moment about the British holiday-themed romantic comedy Love Actually, its merits as a film, what it means about you as a person, woman, feminist, antifeminist or general human if you enjoy or don’t enjoy it, and whether or not it should be required viewing during the wider holiday season.
I can’t speak to many of the specifics in this unexpected socio-cultural online civil war, other than to say that Love Actually is probably my favorite Christmas movie. I watch it every year whilst I wrap presents on Christmas Eve. It makes me smile, and feel warm and fuzzy inside, and honestly, isn’t that what this time of year is supposed to be about in the first place. So, don’t expect a thesis-level defense of the film here – but, rather, a list of what it is I like so much about it.
Feel free to agree, disagree or leave me a list of what I ought to be watching instead in the comments.
Ahem. So. Why British Rom Com ‘Love Actually’ is the Best Christmas Movie Ever, Actually:
This Song. You know you watch this scene and smile. (Or possibly dance around your apartment. I mean, it would be okay if you did that. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.)
Bill Nighy. There is basically nothing better than Bill Nighy’s subplot as aging rock star Billy Mack on his quest to snag the Christmas No. 1 single with insipid holiday track Christmas is All Around Us. From his Robert Palmer-rip off music video, to his ill-fated trip to a British chat show where he encourages young fans to become rock stars so they don’t have to pay for their own drugs, to his realization that the only real relationship in his life is with his sad sack manager, and, actually, that’s okay, it’s all just incredibly perfect. And, surprisingly, that Christmas is All Around Us track is both utterly dreadful and kind of catchy.
The Bittersweet Amongst the Fluff. The most emotionally resonate bits of Love Actually aren’t necessarily the happiest ones – sure the two adult film actors who manage to stumble into an unexpectedly sweet romance together are darling, and the fact that Liam Neeson’s widower ends up with Claudia Schiffer is exactly the sort of thing you expect from soppy holiday movies. But, the things that stay with you are the non-traditional holiday movie moments. Emma Thompson’s heartbreak as she listens to Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now after realizing her husband has bought an expensive necklace for another woman actually causes you physical pain. Laura Linney’s inability to have a romantic relationship because all of her emotional energy is devoted to caring for her disabled brother is painful and disappointing, but realistic in its own way. People are allowed to be sad, as well as happy, and the fact that it’s Christmas, and that that is a time for love and rejoicing doesn’t necessarily gloss over the parts of life that don’t come prepackaged with tinsel and glitter.
This Cast List is Ridiculous. This movie features a positive bonanza of amazing British actors in it. Where else can you see Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Martin Freeman, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Keira Knightley, Andrew Lincoln, Rowan Atkinson and more, all in the same movie? Thanks, Santa!
“To Me, You Are Perfect.” The scene where Andrew Lincoln shows up outside Keira Knightley’s house with a tape deck and a series of heartfelt placards is basically the early 2000s version of John Cusack standing outside your house with a boombox. What kind of Anglophile can resist that? A stronger woman than me, obviously. But, in reality, this is just another moment that sets this film apart from the bulk of romantic comedies out there – instead of a love triangle or a sordid affair or the destruction of what is clearly a solid friendship between all three of them, the movie quietly acknowledges that sometimes not every grand declaration is met with choirs singing, and sometimes the simple fact of having feelings for someone doesn’t override lifelong commitments, be they of the marital or BFF for life variety.
The Cutest Child in the World. Thomas Brodie-Sangster plays the adorable 11 year-old stepson of the widowed Liam Neeson. He is literally the world’s cutest and most precocious child, and watching him bond with his stepfather over his crush on American Joanna, the “coolest girl in school” is basically like seeing candy floss given human form. Adorable!
There’s a Lot of the Unexpected. For a romantic comedy – which, let’s face it, is basically one trope after another for an hour and a half – Love Actually has a surprisingly amount of, well, surprise. Events that we’re conditioned to expect in a rom-com don’t necessarily happen here – or happen in unexpected ways. We don’t get a true resolution to the Emma Thompson/Alan Rickman storyline. Andrew Lincoln makes the best set of romantic flashcards in history and doesn’t get the girl. There is a woman on this planet who would actually cheat on Colin Firth apparently. Martin Freeman and Joanna Page meet cute at an adult video shoot and still have one of the most awkward yet adorable first dates in history. The Most Adorable Child in the World gets personal validation, but not the girl of his dreams, while his father actually does end up with Claudia Schiffer. Bill Nighy scores a Christmas Number 1 with a rendition of the openly-acknowledged world’s worst holiday song. The film follows a lot of the paint-by-numbers script that powers nearly every rom-com out there, but manages to somehow make the majority of it feel fresh.
Hugh Grant Dancing. Many of us have had a, shall we say, rocky relationship with Grant over the years. From the highs of Four Weddings and a Funeral to the lows of his whole prostitution scandal, we’ve mostly loved him, but not always liked him. This movie reminds you why you loved him – Love Actually features Grant at his most charming and rootable, and also features this amazing dance sequence, which occurs after an equally fabulous scene in which Grant tells off a bully in the form of Billy Bob Thornton’s kind of sleazy American President.
Hope: Love is Actually All Around. There’s so much love in this movie, of all stripes – friends, colleagues, parents, siblings, lovers, spouses, families, even the basic kindnesses from strangers looking to help someone out (looking at you, Rowan Atkinson). It’s heartfelt and heartwarming, and exactly what we all need this time of year, and that’s probably why it’s so popular.
Yet, not every storyline in Love Actually necessarily gets a happy ending. We don’t know exactly what will become of Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman’s marriage – but we do know that the arrivals gate at the airport – where the couple meets at the end of the film - is a place that’s full of love. Maybe they work it out. Maybe they don’t. But, we’re left with the hope that they might, which is enough. After all, even crotchety old Billy Mack figures out that love is all you need, in his own way.
Maybe, ultimately, the real lesson here isn’t that everyone has to like Love Actually, and maybe there are bits of horribleness in a movie that’s largely packed with awesome (ugh, the storyline with Colin coming to look for women in America, ugh), but if you ask me, on the whole, it’s nice to be reminded that love is really all around. Sometimes we need it. And if you can't embrace that kind of sap during the hoildays, when can you?
Hit me with it: Where do you guys fall in the Great Love Actually Debate?