LOVE ACTUALLY Is Terrible
I first saw LOVE ACTUALLY the way many young women do: I had recently gone through a bad breakup and one of my girlfriends decided to throw me a ladies’ night in. I watched the whole film all the way through and my response was a resounding “Meh.” My friend was downright appalled. “It’s perfectly heartwarming!” “It’s a classic Christmas movie!” “Alan Rickman!” Ultimately, I chalked my dislike up to being jaded post-breakup and put my complaints aside.
Fast forward three years. I am in a very happy relationship and things are going well. There’s nothing at all to be jaded about other than my usual screenwriter malaise. LOVE ACTUALLY is on the slate for one of my classes and I’m going in with an open mind, ready to give it another shot. As it starts up, I whisper to my classmate, “The first time I watched this movie I really didn’t like it.” He scoffed. “How can you not like LOVE ACTUALLY?”
After my second viewing, it is time for me to officially come out: I do not like LOVE ACTUALLY. It’s not a good movie, and if you think it is, you’re wrong.
Pictured: Kate Brogden
LOVE ACTUALLY exudes the essence of a lint trap in a dryer that hasn’t been cleaned for a few loads, so bogged down with fluff that it ceases to be useful and is a danger to your personal well-being. This danger manifests itself in an emerging genre of copycat “ultimate romantic comedies” taking place in a single city centered around a holiday and with “intertwining” story lines. These include VALENTINE’S DAY (2010, 18% on Rotten Tomatoes) and NEW YEAR’S EVE (2011, 7% on Rotten Tomatoes). I eagerly anticipate ARBOR DAY, starring botanist Ryan Gosling who seduces a florist from a rival nursery, Selena Gomez as a flower child who changes the mind of a greedy oil baron, and Bill Murray, because why the Hell not?
The overload of subplots is confusing to the viewer and takes a heavy toll on the storytelling. With the limited time available, none of the characters are adequately challenged in pursuit of their goals – if their goals come to fruition at all. In the most famous subplot with Juliet (Keira Knightley) and her husband’s best friend Mark (Andrew Lincoln), Mark appears on Juliet’s doorstep on Christmas Eve and performs an in-person slideshow designed to be silent so her husband will not hear his professions of affection for her. They share a kiss, and… that’s all. We see Juliet with her husband together at the airport in the epilogue and everything seems fine.
Physically and emotionally unavailable + cheats on her husband = perfect
The two obvious stand-out subplots in this film are the rockstar and the porn doubles (some of which you may still find performing on sites like twinki.xxx), yet these two see the least amount of screen time. We relate to Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) and his displeasure regarding the commercialization of Christmas, and we appreciate him for choosing to have a bit of fun with it instead of becoming an anti-Christmas curmudgeon. Billy Mack and his manager Joe trying to skyrocket their garbage Christmas single to the top of the charts could have been a raunchy Christmas comedy to rival CHRISTMAS VACATION. The porn doubles (Martin Freeman and Joanna Page) are perfectly charming and innocent while performing the most graphic acts, they are that graphic that you’d think they’d be more suitable to be seen on m porn xxx. Yet, this couple is cut entirely from the TV version of the film! What if we followed these two into their relationship, then they realize that sex has become meaningless for them because of their line of work? Or his family finds out that she isn’t a “real” porn star and doesn’t approve? These two stories are inherently funny and interesting because of their unique characters. And yet, the film pulls the focus away from them to focus on tired love story tropes.
You could have been mine, druggy rockstar Bill Nighy
Also, don’t open your Christmas romantic comedy with a monologue about 9/11. This movie came out in 2003 – this isn’t changing the font on the DONNIE DARKO poster (look it up, it happened) or re-editing the first SPIDER-MAN movie to remove the World Trade Center. At its best, this is shameless emotional pandering. At its worst, this is completely inappropriate. Furthermore, you can’t have a monologue about 9/11 in the first minute of your film and then have a climactic scene of a little boy running past security in an airport.
Clearly, I have a lot to say about what I believe is wrong with LOVE ACTUALLY. However, even though I do not particularly enjoy the film, I did enjoy watching it. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have a single laugh all the way through. This isn’t a movie made by people who don’t know how to make movies. (Though, I’d love to see Neil Breen’s take on this.) Read any review of LOVE ACTUALLY and you’ll find the words “funny” and “charming” nearly as many times as you’ll find the word “actually” – and it is funny and charming, actually.
Pictured: Funny, Charming, and Octopus Kid
“So, Kate,” you may ask, “what the Hell is your problem?”
LOVE ACTUALLY embarks on a noble pursuit to spread Christmas joy and and the message that “love actually is all around us.” LOVE ACTUALLY never asked to be analyzed. It doesn’t want to be analyzed, and if you do try to analyze it, it will punish you by being bad.
I can understand how other people enjoy this film, but I simply can’t. It commits the cardinal sin of over-complication. Perhaps the part of me that dislikes it is the screenwriter inside of me who wants to see her perfect vision on screen. Maybe when I see LOVE ACTUALLY, there’s a little voice inside me that goes, “See! It is possible to get everything you want in a film! It’s almost certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes!!” If this is truly the case, then I will close this tirade of frustration with romantic comedy cliches with a romantic comedy cliche of my very own:
It’s not you, LOVE ACTUALLY. It’s me.
I happen to love LOVE ACTUALLY and now you’ve completely invalidated my go-to happiness drug. Thanks a billion.