Of all the subtle and strange subgenres of film, surely one of the strangest must be the “Christmas film.” The marketing is shameless and generally geared towards families or couples (one of the few exceptions being Bad Santa, which has bro-homie fratboy written all.over.it, though I hear it’s raunchily hilarious). I haven’t seen them all, but there is a generally cheesy “holiday” spirit that tends to run through. And if it’s not that overt, then somehow, the movie converges on Christmas and remarkably becomes a “Christmas movie.”
The latter is the case with Love Actually, a film about 99% of my friends love and consider their favorite Christmas movie. I didn’t make it out to the theaters to see it, but the reviews were raves. “It’s so cute!” “I felt like Christmas!” “It’s all about love!” “I watch it every year!” So, several years later, I finally borrowed it from a friend.
I don’t get it.
No, seriously, I genuinely don’t understand why everyone likes it. I’ve had the audacity to criticize it, and everyone looks at me like I’m (a) the Grinch (probably) or (b) insane (not yet, but this PhD isn’t over, either). How can I possibly hate such a romantic, wonderful, Christmas-filled movie??????
In the end, it comes down to the fact that this movie was marketed to me as a delightful Christmas film, and it’s actually got some very sad and dark parts. And the lone movie like that I will tolerate is It’s a Wonderful Life. Otherwise, if you’re selling me Christmas, it had better be sweet and funny and delightful. So, let me present ten issues I have with Love Actually‘s status as a delightful Christmas film (also, a film, if we’re being completely honest):
1. Let’s start with the millions of fat jokes aimed at the Prime Minister’s staff/love interest, Natalie (Martine McCutcheon). SERIOUSLY, THIS WOMAN IS NOT FAT. It’s not funny, and from the first joke, it was never funny. I could not see past the fact that everyone in the movie makes fun of a perfectly healthy, beautiful woman who has the audacity to look like she eats an occasional sandwich and not Kate Moss’s steady diet of cocaine. I cannot sign off on this. Nope. Not at all.
2. Colin Firth’s love story was deeply rom-commish in that there is just no way two people with nothing in common, not even the same language, can fall that deeply in love in such a short amount of time. If you don’t even have language to hold you in common, how do you communicate? How do you sustain it? Riiiight, it’s a romantic comedy. Reality has nothing to do with it. Also: I found it odd that the maid character looks a bit like Firth’s own real-life wife, Livia, who is Italian.
3. I hated that, yet again, we reinforce the token sad-cat-lady figure who just can’t seem to get ahead in her love life. I’m sorry, but what is romantic about Laura Linney *finally* able to get it on with a hot designer, just to abandon him in flagrante to rush off to the side of her cognitively challenged brother? Yes, it’s sweet that she loves him. But this is not Parenthood. It’s not romantic. And it’s not Christmas.
4. Can we talk a minute about how we’re still trying to make Hugh Grant as a protagonist happen? I’m sorry, he’s best when he’s stuttering (see Four Weddings and a Funeral or Sense and Sensibility, because…the floppy hair) or when he’s Daniel Cleaver. Seriously, nothing can beat his one-liners in Bridget Jones, and we all know it. Let’s not try and make him the grand romantic hero. He’s better suited elsewhere.
5. I haven’t even gotten started on the Keira Knightley story debacle. It’s actually got nothing to do with her (for once!). When I watched the film and saw the two best friends interacting, I actually believed the Mark character was in love with Peter. Seriously. And it made me feel sad and melancholy, and a bit achy for him. And then, lo and behold, he’s in love with Juliet. Say, what? He goes so far as to give off the Big Romantic Gesture while Peter’s at home, and basically forces Juliet into silently reading his note cards declaring his grand and stalkerish love for her. Ugh. I just can’t even. It’s creepy on so many levels, and it reinforces the “nice guy” trope, when this guy really isn’t nice, and he’s not even a great friend. He goes through the charade of being an awesome wingman and best friend, while secretly pining for the best friend’s wife.
HOW IS THAT CHRISTMASSY?????
6. I did not like the young man going buck wild in America story at all. It was not funny. That’s all I care to say about the matter.
7. I actually genuinely liked the Bill Nighy singer story. It was a funny takedown of the Christmas album genre, and a very clever glimpse at how the industry views Christmas music—a cash cow with little originality or substance. But is it just me that really wishes the story could have gone a little farther—that Bill Nighy’s confession of his one relationship with his manager could have been an actual love story? Maybe? I was disappointed they didn’t develop it further.
8. Let’s talk about the little boy, shall we? Actually, let’s not. I found it kind of creepy. This little boy is convinced he’s in love with this girl and goes through all these hoops, while his grieving-widower-father plays along. Blah. That kind of precious is too-cute for me, and not in a good way.
9. Thanks to Love Actually, we now have those rotating-cast-movies in which ten stories converge on each other, and we randomly get people together for very little good reason. There’s so little room to develop all the stories that it starts to feel cheap and tiresome after a while.
10. I’ve saved my biggest complaint for last. If you know me at all in real life, you know what’s coming:
HOW IS IT REMOTELY ACCEPTABLE TO LET ALAN RICKMAN CHEAT ON EMMA THOMPSON????????????????????
No, seriously. This is not a movie about the travails of marriage, or the grimy reality of relationships. It’s a f***ing Christmas movie. It’s about big, romantic gestures and fuzzy feelings. And there is nothing at all fuzzy about an extramarital affair at Christmastime. Nothing. It’s heartbreaking for a woman to realize that the necklace she stumbled upon was not for her, and that there is Another Woman. It’s not even remotely Christmassy.
Also, out of this cast, why are we choosing Alan Rickman as the villain? WHY????? If you want Alan Rickman to be your villain, I will direct you to a different Christmas movie, in which he plays a delightfully sadistic villain, and totally outshone Bruce Willis. Yes, dear Reader, Die Hard. If you want bad-guy Alan Rickman, go with Hans Gruber. Not a cheating husband.
Come holiday time, I will be watching Charlie Brown and the original (and only) Grinch, and Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. Movies that are fun, delightful, and make me feel happy inside. Because, let’s face it, if I wanted to be angry and depressed and emotionally beat up, I’d just as soon get punched in the ovaries—that way, I can avoid watching Alan Rickman be a scumball on my TV.