Dec 17 2013 12:30pm

Why We Actually Love Love Actually So Much

Love Actually posterFor a lot of us, it’s not really Christmas until we’ve performed that most important of rituals: the annual viewing of Love Actually. It’s hard to believe, but it has been ten years since Richard Curtis’s ambitious movie exploded off the screen and into the hearts of millions of viewers. With its star-studded cast, multiple interconnected plot lines, and iconic scenes—Hugh Grant dancing around No. 10 Downing Street to the exuberant strains of the Pointer Sisters’ “Jump” comes to mind—the film became an instant, if controversial, classic.

Controversial? Oh, yes. For every person who actually loves Love Actually and can recite the dialogue from memory, there’s another who absolutely reviles it. I myself live in such a House Divided, as I adore the movie beyond reason while my husband rolls his eyes, observes “It should be called Love Impulsively,” and makes himself scarce for the film’s entire two-hour-and-fifteen-minute runtime whenever it’s on.

Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon in Love ActuallyMuch as it pains me to admit it, he and all the other haters out there have a point. For all its many charms, Love Actually does not lack for flaws. All those fat jokes. The subtle but unmistakable strain of anti-Americanism that runs throughout. The wonky timeline. And some of those plotlines—I can’t even. I mean, a rebounding author (Colin Firth)—a writer, for whom works and language and communication are presumably central to his very existence—falls ass over teakettle for a woman (Lúcia Moniz) with whom he can’t hold the simplest conversation. The charismatic Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) dallies with a fresh young underling (Martine McCutcheon)—there’s no way THAT could possibly go wrong. And don’t even get me started on Colin, God of Sex (Kris Marshall), who flies all the way from London to Milwaukee in the dead of winter for one reason and one reason only—and it has nothing to do with cheese curds or beer brats. He is rewarded, of course, by getting laid…and laid…and laid…and laid.

Colin Firth and Lúcia Moniz in Love ActuallyThe thing about Love Actually is that there are two movies packed away in there. One is silly, fluffy fantasy. (I have to admit, Colin and his big knob mostly make me laugh.) But the other is serious and sometimes heartbreaking emotional realism. An aging rocker (Bill Nighy) with the world ostensibly at his feet finds himself churning out “solid gold turds” for top-40 radio, cynical and largely alone. A couple’s (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman as Karen and Harry) humdrum domestic routine is threatened when Harry succumbs to the seductive lures of his sex-kitten assistant (Heike Makatsch). Seriously, that scene where the wife unwraps what she thinks will be an expensive necklace and it turns out to be a CD? Brutal, and perfectly played. (Who among us did not want to send Karen a basket of kittens and punch Harry in the nuts after watching that?) A lonely woman (Laura Linney) devotes herself to her mentally ill brother (Michael Fitzgerald), to the point of absolute denial of her own needs. For a feel-good movie, Love Actually sure is depressing.

Strangely, I think that this is a big part of why the movie works as well as it does. As readers of romance, we (well, most of us) appreciate the opportunity to be drawn into a well-crafted fantasy world, where billionaires become obsessed with inexperienced wallflowers and six-foot-five-inch nineteenth-century Highlanders with excellent teeth turn out to be tender and considerate lovers when they deflower untitled bluestockings—whom they later marry, bloodlines be damned—in the cloakroom at the Prince Regent’s ball. But we also live in the real world, where siblings get sick, spouses stray, and all of us get old and sometimes wonder, like Billy Mack, whether we’ve squandered our talents and wasted our lives.

Andrew Lincoln in Love ActuallyLove Actually gives us both. We get the fantasy: Movie stand-ins (Martin Freeman and Joanna Page) who meet cute while naked and later discover that they’re soulmates, young Sam (Thomas Sangster) racing through Heathrow past heavy post-9/11 security just so he can share an innocent kiss with the ten-year-old love of his life (Olivia Olson), and newlywed Juliet (Keira Knightley) not throat-punching her husband’s best friend (Andrew Lincoln) when he suddenly declares himself to her, a month after the wedding. And then we get the reality: Karen crying, alone in her bedroom, and then pulling herself together so she can get her unsuspecting children to the school’s holiday pageant on time.

“We know what’s real,” the movie seems to be saying. “We know how it really goes. But look at how Jamie looks at Aurelia. See how he learns sufficient Portuguese in a week to ask for her hand in marriage. Observe how the Prime Minister goes door to door in a ‘dodgy’ area looking for his Natalie, and don’t you DARE ask why he doesn’t just look her address up in the employee directory, for Pete’s sake.”

If the movie were nothing but kittens and rainbows and happy endings, it would be unbearable. And it would be forgotten today. But it’s not. Just like a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, a little bit of bitter medicine makes the sugar taste all the sweeter. Richard Curtis and his cast of dozens understood that, and somehow, they made something magical.

I wish for all readers a holiday in which love actually is all around you.


Kate Nagy is Editor at Large of Geek Speak Magazine.

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Anna Bowling
1. AnnaBowling
I will admit that there was a time when I carried the Love Actualy DVD around in my computer bag. A friend once asked me why, was I hoping I'd find a stray VCR somewhere? Granted, her grasp of the technology was a bit off, and I explained that it was to watch on my laptop, but in a word, yes. Whatever the need, there is something in this movie to fill it, and that's like toting around a whole cineplex in one package. Especially if one watches the deleted scenes - Daniel bribing Sam to pretend he was the one who got the computer stuck on an adult site, Karen getting called in to the headmistress' office because of son Bernard's inappropriate -but hilarious- Christmas essay, and then immediately switching to the headmistress' own story, where we find her as sole caregiver for her terminally ill partner, and perhaps most universal of all, the love stories of the people depicted in the posters of third world countries; they too, have love and romance. It really is all around.

How much of a Love Actually geek am I? I have the paperback version of the script.
Jackie Lester
2. JackieLester
Here, I thought I was a fan of the movie only to realize that I've never seen the deleted scenes! Anna Bowling, you've put me to shame, lol. I'll be watching them over the weekend, for sure.

I think my favourite part is when Daniel tells Sam that if he meets Claudia Schiffer, Sam will have to vamoose while they "do it" in every room of the house. Just imagine saying THAT to your ten year old? Yet, their relationship is one that's built on this kind of honesty, while sharing the pain of their recent loss. It's funny, touching, and sad all rolled up into a giant ball of tissues.

Great post, Kate!
Lori K
3. LoriK
For the record, not everyone loves or hates Love, Actually. I'm in the middle. There are some parts that I love and will happily watch again and again. There are other parts that I liked the first time I saw the movie, but which don't hold up for me, and other parts I never liked. And then there's the subplot that I would never voluntarily sit through again unless I was paid a fair amount of money, cash in advance. No checks, no credit.

The movie is long and there's a lot going on and for me it's a mixed bag.
4. LJayOh
On the very much love side of this movie. Cannot believe it has been 10 years since it's release. I love it for not only Messrs. Firth & Grant but it's entire cast -- a veritable who's-who and look at who they are now (that would be you Mr. Martin Freeman and you, Ms. January Jones.

My favorite scene of all is not at the school or Heathrow (though, "hello Greta" is a favorite). It's the scene at the jewelry counter between Rowan Atkinson and Alan Rickman . It's brilliant. Atkinson's unwitting torture of the not-for-his-wife-necklace-buyer is hilarious. The delivery of the line, "oh, but it is so much more than a box" makes me laugh every time.

Oh, oh and the soundtrack is magnificent -- I love Olivia Olson's version of "All I want for Christmas."

That Sarah and Karl were star-crossed is one of the great tragedies of modern cinema. Just saying.
5. SueAnn Porter
I've never seen this one. I am new to the "Romantic" genre. ;-)
I will have to check it out.
6. sorcharay
A re-watching of the movie is definitely in order.

Forgive me if this sounds silly, but I really would like to know what book this refers to:
"six-foot-five-inch nineteenth-century Highlanders with excellent teeth turn out to be tender and considerate lovers when they deflower untitled bluestockings—whom they later marry, bloodlines be damned—in the cloakroom at the Prince Regent’s ball."
7. SassyT
I have to say after I watched Love Actually for the first time I didn't like it. I was so upset that not everyone got a happy ending. I felt like I had been snookered. I thought this was a romantic-comedy for crying out loud. I was especially upset by Laura Linney not getting it on with Rodrigo Santoro but instead going to sit with her mentally ill brother (especially after Karl asked her if could she fix it right then by answering her brother's call that night and she admitted no she couldn't...here's a hint: Don't answer the phone and make made passionate monkey love with hot Karl!!!) But now I LOVE Love Actually. It has definitely grown on me over the years and is now something I have to watch at Christmas (and any other time I see it's on t.v.). That little girl singing Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas" actually made me a fan of the song (I previously didn't care for it). My favorite scene however has to be at the end when they show the montage of people meeting loved ones and friends at Heathrow to the sounds of the Beach Boys singing "Love Only Knows." That just gets me everytime!!! So, I'm a former hater who's now a huge fan of Love Actually...but evidently not a big enough fan as I didn't know about the deleted scenes. I'm going to run out and buy myself a copy just to watch the deleted scenes.
8. Jamey
I hate it. It's overlong, David Lean type running time (2 1/2 hours!!) and it's endless and unfunny (this is a romantic comedy?) setpieces and endless stories are unbearable - if you want a multiple storyline film then watch 'American Graffiti', which was much better than this guff and it's a classic too, unlike 'Love Actually', which is a horrendous, depressing, cliche ridden piece of schmaltz, even by Richard Curtis standards. How many times are we going to see this (I've got to get my girl at the last minute) ending, Richard? You did it in The Tall Guy, then again in Notting Hill. Plus it was done at the end of Splash, Crocodile Dundee, etc, etc and more importantly it was done better!! The Laura Linney 'story' was totally out of place with the others, and the soundtrack honestly makes me want to cut my wrists. It's dreary as hell, and I never want to meet anyone who thinks this is the best Christmas film ever, or the best film ever. Personally I think they're off the planet, or they've possibly got a screw loose. Bill Nighy was the only thing worth watching in it, but even he couldn't save it. Richard Curtis has lost it, and this sure as hell isn't another Four weddings and a funeral or a Notting Hill. It comes nowhere near to the quality of anything he did before this. In fact I would say it's probably better if someone else had directed it, and maybe it would have been watchable. As it stands it's a pretty average TV movie made for the cinema with an outstanding cast that just doesn't shine through. Simplicity would have been better, and less is definitley more in this case. And let's not even get started on the Kris Marshal 'story' either: what exactly was that suggesting, that all English guys can go to America and the women will just fall over themselves and have sex with them? That was so corny and cringe making and unrealistic. Jesus I can't believe I'm even writing for a film that I despise so much. I have seen it THREE times now (It doesn't improve with muliple viewings) and watched the commentary all the way through to try and find out why this movie got made. The commentary was actually quite a lot of fun, but the film isn't. End of story.
9. Jamey
PS: As it turns out I'm not the only one that feels this way. In fact I meet people all the time who think that it's wildly overrated and not even a Christmas film at all.
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