Ohf the many gestures of love, small and, more often than not, oversized, in Love Actually, the one that has always struck me is of the first type. Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister sits alone in a grand but comfortable drawing room at Number 10, alone on Christmas Eve, rummaging through his red outbox for greetings cards. He meets one from Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), the tea lady he’s dreamed of since their first expletive-filled meeting. “If you can’t say it at Christmas, when can you, eh?” she writes. “I’m actually yours.”
This declaration of devotion, charming in its smallness, precipitates Grant’s most memorable response, knocking on every door on his street in “the dubious side” of Wandsworth until he finds it. It’s Christmas, the film trumpets over and over: it’s time to tell someone you love them!
Richard Curtis’ directorial debut, which turns 20 this year, isn’t anyone’s favorite romantic comedy. But it’s a lot of people’s favorite Christmas movie. Love Actually, in which a group of predominantly white upper-middle-class Londoners fall in love while self-deprecating and swearing in inventive ways, was critically panned but was a hit with audiences, earning $247 million in the world. This divide persists today, with vitriolic takedowns of the film by reviewers in December, while everyone settles in for their annual review. The ensemble cast’s love story spawned numerous rip-offs, from Valentine’s Day to He’s Just Not That Into You, while seemingly sounding the death knell for the romantic comedy.
Across nine interconnected storylines set in an impeccably beautiful London fantasy land of Notting Hill houses, scuffed wooden furniture and the old orange-striped Waitrose bag, the film runs its fingers over the edges of the various shapes of love. There is, of course, Grant, as the single Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, baffled by his infatuation with not finishing his sentences; Colin Firth’s writer holed up on the edge of a freezing pastoral lake falling in love (and in the lake) with his Portuguese housekeeper; Laura Linney’s charity worker pines for a handsome colleague; Bill Nighy’s superb lothario rocker Billy Mack makes a comeback with Christmas single ‘shit made of solid gold’; Martin Freeman and Joanna Page, naked bodies, double-cross each other on a film set, sweetly and awkwardly realizing that they love each other; Liam Neeson’s grieving stepfather and his son (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) reconnect as he helps the 10-year-old woo his school crush; Kris Marshall’s thirsty loser flies to Wisconsin to fuck; the most controversial is Andrew Lincoln’s Mark, stalking his best friend’s wife (Keira Knightley and Chiwetel Ejiofor); and most heartbreaking, Emma Thompson’s discovery of Alan Rickman’s near-affair with his turtleneck assistant, in the most desolate club opening scene in a film since Seven.
The multiplicity of the film contributes, in part, to its longevity. While the sadder subplots – those with Thompson and Linney, dejected, open and beautiful – are unquestionably the best, the depiction of the many configurations of love rewards repeated viewing. I was 10 when the movie came out, the same age as Sam from Brodie-Sangster. His stepfather asks him: “Aren’t you a little young to be in love?” “No,” he said. At the time, the solemnity of my pre-teen comrade resonated. Since then, I have experienced a few more things. I have also watched Love Actually several times.
Many storylines reward underdogs, which is encouraging; the majority of them highlight a male perspective, which is not the case. At a meeting last year, Richard Curtis admitted that the film “was doomed to seem outdated at times.” The lack of diversity makes me uncomfortable and a little stupid. But the film’s flaws don’t really have to do with the fact that it has aged poorly; in fact, many of the things people object to today were brought up by critics in 2003. Too straight, too many dirty jokes, too much male-subordinate relationships, too American, too cloying, too of intrigue. It is unlikely that the initial reference to 9/11 in support of Curtis’s manifesto that “love, in fact, is everywhere” would have been received much better 20 years ago than it is today ‘today.
The film jumps through plotlines at the expense of characterization, with Curtis relying on quirkiness — the lobster Christmas, the Bay City Rollers at a funeral — and the actors’ exceptional charisma to bring the film to life. Curtis’ experience as a sketch comedy writer (notably on Blackadder) shines in these scenes: Rowan Atkinson’s flourishing “this is” SO much more than a cameo bag; Nighy’s promotional tour appears exuberantly destroying his own song.
Curtis said that Love Actually is not about people in love, but about love itself: “what love sort of means…on the subject rather than an example of a story on the subject.” » The only motivation of his characters is love, and it is all-consuming. Grant torpedoes Britain’s “special relationship” with the United States after President Billy Bob Thornton’s tan rattlesnake slithers on McCutcheon. His moving speech about standing up to the Yankees has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with his crush, which is ridiculous and completely relatable to anyone who’s ever had one.
Movie moments like these are memorable, of course, but Love Actually has more to say about inaction when it comes to love. Often, he emphasizes, the obstacle to love is ourselves; our shyness and our fear of being rejected. This is best illustrated by Colin Firth’s plot, in which the icy-charming Englishman and the shy Portuguese woman can only express affection for each other when they know the other person can’t actually do them. to understand. Along with everyone in love with the film, he finds the courage to say what he feels – because it’s Christmas! As the film’s multiple crescendos shake us in sugary waves, Firth asks Lúcia Moniz’s Aurélia to marry him in front of a crowd of spectators. He ends his awkward Portuguese proposition with a coda: “It’s Christmas, so I just wanted to… check.” »
The film builds on the idea of Christmas as a time that unseals hopeful lips, a Saturnalia interval of suspended norms and overcome inhibitions. In short, a belief – both manufactured and reinforced by romantic comedies – that in these hectic, romanticized weeks of December, anything can happen. McCutcheon can write this Christmas card; Brodie-Sangster can rush through the airport to catch his crush before his flight; and, darker, Lincoln’s Mark can, after asking Knightley to lie to her husband, tell him that he loves her with a pile of cue cards.
In Love Actually, love is everywhere – as is Christmas, the marriage of the two so essential to the film that it is described in song. Billy Mack’s rewrite of The Troggs’ Love Is All Around through Christmas Is All Around brazenly winds throughout the film, exhorting the characters: “If you really love me (Christmas), go and let it show (snow). » If this schmaltzy message is too heavy, it’s worth remembering who’s delivering it: Nighy’s antique rockstar, flamboyantly shirted, his every line vibrating with nastiness. Love Actually is by no means perfect. But it’s also just a bit of fun.