We're less than a month out from #Christmas, which means it's time to deck those halls, trim those trees, and prepare for an onslaught of complaints about crass consumerism and Hallmark holidays.
I adore Love Actually, and have done since the first time I saw it. It's sweet, funny, reminds me of home, and it's just so darn charming. However, for all its adorable sweetness, #LoveActually has also garnered severe criticism since its 2003 release. It's often held up as misogynist, creepy, unrealistic and generally terrible. One of the best-known pieces about it, I Rewatched Love Actually And I'm Here To Ruin It For You, appeared on Jezebel in 2013, and has been bothering me since. So my early Christmas gift to a favorite film is here: a rebuttal. A defense. A reminder that actually, seeing Hugh Grant boogie down the hallways of Downing Street is adorable, and we should all warm our hearts with a rewatch.
Note: While I'm responding directly to one particular article, this post is in no way intended as any kind of personal attack on the author Lindy West. It's a good-natured response to the original piece (which is intended as humor), and all the similar pieces that brought up the same points. In the holiday spirit, I humbly request that commenters also focus critique on the writing, not the writers.
Let's Get Started
The author Lindy West takes umbrage with the opening scene in an airport, writing "If that's not the epitome of unexamined privilege—declaring that the airport is your favorite place — then I don't know what is." Fair enough, except that #HughGrant doesn't declare that the airport is his favorite place. He says that when he's feeling gloomy, he thinks of the arrivals gate, because it reminds him that on an individual level, everyone is full of love for each other. Which is a very, very different thing.
Bill Nighy And The Christmas Song
Next up, we have a complaint about the intro to Bill Nighy's character Billy Mack as he records a Christmas record. According to the author, this is appalling right off the bat, because Billy Mack "keeps ruining perfectly good takes so he can yell about how shitty his shitty Christmas song is, because Bill Nighy doesn't care about the valuable time of the hardworking professionals who are just trying to finish his vanity record so they can get home to their families."
Except that he doesn't. He accidentally ruins a couple of takes because he keeps making a mistake. Which he apologizes for. How dare you screw up, fictional pop star! There is no suggestion that he is making the engineers work late either. Presumably he has booked a block of time to record and is using it. That's not preventing anyone heading home. That's just them doing their job. How terrible.
The writer goes on to describe the film as "fucking incompetently made" because after Billy's scene the screen tells us it's five weeks before Christmas, and no one would record a Christmas song five weeks before Christmas. Which no one would, but the point of bringing up that timeline after the Billy Mack recording scene is to tell the audience that everything that happens after that tagline is taking place five weeks before Christmas. Billy's scene is before this at an undisclosed time. Logical enough when you understand how providing timelines in a movie works.
Colin Firth's Cheating Girlfriend
Next up, we get the intro to Jamie (Colin Firth), who discovers that his preternaturally perky girlfriend is banging his brother behind his back. Ouch. No empathy for the guy being cheated on, though.
Instead, we're told that he "cannot deal," the whiny man-child, and so "runs off all sulky to France to write a novel." Ignoring, for a moment, the idea that anyone should just "deal" with a betrayal of that magnitude, this description completely misunderstands his entire character. He didn't run off because his girlfriend cheated. Jamie is a writer who apparently goes to France each year to do his writing. We know that this was planned before this nameless gal started playing around, because his landlady type person was expecting him to show up with her. She's actually really confused when his "lady guest" isn't there, and Jamie tells her that there was a "change of plans."
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Next up, we hear a bizarre interpretation of what is actually a really normal introduction (with #ColinFirth's bumbling charm, of course). "This old French woman shows up at Chateau de Firth and is like, 'Here, I found you a lady. I'm literally giving you this lady.' Score! Free lady! The lady is named Aurelia and she only speaks Portuguese."
Or, possibly, the woman he regularly rents the place from comes to see him (normal), they have a chat as they obviously know each other (also normal), and she introduces him to the person she's hired as a housekeeper for him. Again, this is pretty darn normal for a holiday home. He then has a polite and slightly awkward introduction to her, welcomes her inside, and that's that. Apparently West has never hired anyone to work for her before, and so that introduction is confusing and presented as though Jamie traded a few chickens and a goat for Aurélia.
Side note here: It's apparently annoying that Aurélia only speaks Portuguese, along with her whole family, who live in France. Except that they don't. They live in Portugal, where speaking Portuguese is fairly standard. She happens to be in France to work for a while, which could do with some explaining, but isn't actually that strange.
Liam Neeson Is Sad
You would think that it would be difficult to find fault with a scene where Liam Neeson is grieving for his wife and calls his friend, but apparently it's somehow "insulting to the memory of Natasha Richardson" (Neeson's actual wife, who passed years after the movie was released). I have to assume that West is being intentionally ridiculous here. Moving on.
We segue briefly into a rant about Emma Thompson's character, whose relationship to #Neeson's is never explained. Perhaps because they are friends, and the filmmakers didn't think that friendship requires it? We do also learn at the end that their children go to the same school, so presumably they met there. Do we really need more explanation?
Colin And His Lovely Nuts
"Some fucking guy is running around throwing sandwiches at people and asking female office workers if they want his 'lovely nuts.'"
This is one of the many moments where I start to wonder how much of this movie simply didn't translate. In the UK, you have sandwich delivery people. They are hired to come to the offices to deliver lunch orders. Colin is one of these. He makes crude jokes, and we see the women roll their eyes at him. Because it's gross. We know it's gross. That's the point. That is so much the point that we learn that no one wants to date him because he's so rude and annoying, and even his friend calls him a "lonely, ugly, arsehole," and tells him that he is the problem, not the women. I fail to see the issue with this.
Horny Prime Minister
Next we meet Grant's character, who has just been elected prime minister. He is introduced to his household staff, including Martine McCutcheon, who is essentially a national treasure thanks to #EastEnders. This is another moment of potential lost-in-translation issues, as West a) doesn't refer to McCutcheon by her real name, although she does so with almost every other actor, and b) is very upset that people in the film think that she is chubby.
McCutcheon has spent the past 20 years being called fat by the British tabloids because she is not a size-0. The fact that this is referenced in the film is not surprising. In addition to which, the entire film is spent with her showing that she won't accept being called fat, and Grant defending her as not-fat.
The Big Wedding
Next up, West seems to be confused about how weddings work. "He arranged for a giant choir/marching band to interrupt the ceremony that Knightley and Ejiofor carefully, painstakingly planned to celebrate their love, in order to undermine their relationship and attempt to steal the bride for his own ON HER WEDDING DAY." Except that it's not in the middle of the ceremony. It's as they are exiting the church. Which is when nothing is planned, except that they exit the church to some music. There's not even a timetable, as there is enough space between the ceremony and reception for Colin Firth to go home and find his girlfriend cheating. We also learn that #AndrewLincoln routinely plans "surprises" for his best friend, including one for the bachelor party.
The assumption is that Lincoln is being creepy and trying to steal the bride. Except that we don't feel that way at first. In fact, we don't feel this way until much, much later in the film, when it is revealed that he has a thing for her. (Spoilers!) At this point, it appears that he has done something nice for his friend. Both of them seem completely thrilled, and when she turns to see if he did it, he refuses credit with a "wasn't me" hand gesture. Yes, it's possible that he potentially was attempting to try to show his friend up, but let's face it: This isn't wedding-ruining stuff here. This is on the same level as your bridesmaids organizing a flash mob for your reception, except less of a disruption to schedule.
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Jack And Judy
Now we have some more misunderstanding, as body doubles are confused with porn. "On the set of a movie that is supposedly not a porno but also apparently doesn't contain anything other than fucking, Martin Freeman and a blonde lady named Judy are simulating intercourse." Let's clarify this. When a film involves sex scenes, these are often filmed with body doubles, because big stars are too famous to show their boobs on screen. Jack and Judy are professional body doubles, which is mentioned repeatedly (he talks about when he was standing in for Brad Pitt, they ask them to hurry up to get the actors in). That is why they are only ever filming sex scenes. Got it? Excellent.
There's also some more confusion over how movie timelines work, as West is extremely confused about the fact that a character can appear in two different back-to-back scenes. "Wasn't that guy JUST AT A WEDDING!? Like, 12 seconds ago?" Yes, because time passes. If no time passed between the scenes, the movie would be more than five weeks long, which is a little excessive.
She's also upset because Colin has two jobs, as a sandwich delivery person and as a cater waiter. Given that event serving is a very unreliable source of income, and sandwich delivery people make next to nothing, and Colin lives in London, this makes perfect sense.
We Have To Talk About Karl
In one of our final character introductions, we have two people who work together and engage in a conversation about the personal life of one of the characters. Unsurprisingly, this is an issue. "WHAT KIND OF BUSINESS MEETING IS THIS? Was the working title of this shit Hostile Work Environment: The Movie?"
Except that the two have worked together for more than two years and spend the rest of the movie casually chatting, having conversations about her personal life, and jokingly swatting at each other with newspapers. Which appears to mean that they are *gasp* friends. (This being the second time so far that West has been utterly dumbfounded by a male-female friendship in the film.)
Then we have a problem with the secretary, who is hitting on #AlanRickman with all the subtlety of a flying brick. Which is kinda gross. But, as with Colin, this is the point. We aren't meant to like her. The writer seems to think that Emma Thompson is the one that is being put down, but she's actually being shown as a sympathetic character, while slutty Mia is portrayed as a home-wrecking skank who we should all feel uncomfortable around. This is hardly glorifying the affair.
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Explaining The Joke
"Back at Hugh Grant's office, where Hugh Grant does his man-politics, Hugh Grant is like, 'Who do you have to screw around here to get a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit?' Then Natalie walks in with a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit.
Her. That woman. That's what you have to screw."
Isn't it fantastic that we understand the joke? It's a good thing this was explained!
Sam The Adorable Child
OK, one more character intro. Sam is an 11-year-old lump of cuteness with ruffled hair, and he's sad because his mom died. Despite the fact that the characters talk about how #LiamNeeson is concerned because he seems like he's sad about more than just this, this is the reaction:
"Liam Neeson doesn't know what to do because his 11-year-old step-kid (whose MOM JUST DIED) seems to sit around in his room being sad a lot (!?!!?!?!?)."
Sam is actually sad because he is in love with the most popular girl in school, and the writer is shocked because he doesn't just go up and talk to her. Apparently the writer was never 11 and is baffled as to why a child doesn't have the guts to throw off all social convention, stride across the playground like a badass, and risk social exclusion for all time to ask out a girl. Which would be cool to see, but it's not exactly relatable. He and his dad apparently come up with "900 different strategies to 'make' Joanna fall in love with him. Weirdly, none of the strategies are 'Say hi to her.' Also not considered: You're 11. Calm the fuck down."
At this point, I'm wondering whether she is watching another stranger version of the film. They come up with precisely zero strategies. Neeson also says, "Aren't you a little young to be in love?" and then is smacked back, and obviously doesn't want his son to feel belittled or dismissed, so accepts it, like a good parent who clearly thinks it's slightly ridiculous, but is going to support the hell out of his kid because his mum. Just. Died.
Time to attack more jokes! First up, Natalie tells the PM that she was glad he won, and so he gets the biscuits with chocolate. He asks about her because (wait for it) he wants to get to know her and treat her as a human, given that she works for him. What a jerk! We find out that Natalie recently left her boyfriend because he called her fat — which Hugh Grant finds obviously repugnant. However, rather than commenting on her figure (which would be inappropriate), he makes a joke about using the secret service on the ex for being such an asshole.
"Hugh Grant offers to have Natalie's ex-boyfriend murdered for telling her that her thighs are too large—which is an especially adorable flirtation when you consider that he's a major world leader whose office has historically colonized half the world and bombed and murdered countless actual human beings. BUT IT'S PRETTY FUNNY IN THIS CONTEXT BECAUSE HE WANTS TO GET SOME HOT SNATCH."
After she leaves, smiling, he sighs because he's attracted to her. It's not that he "wants to get some hot snatch," it's that he's concerned that being attracted to a staff member will be problematic. Could this guy be any more of an asshole? Worrying about being distracted from running the country for getting involved in a workplace romance? Jerk.
Still Not Understanding Housekeepers
"Seriously. Is this Colin Firth storyline actually about human trafficking? Colin Firth shows up in France and this woman just gets dropped off at his house and he 'falls in love with her'... Congratulations, now you have a weird stranger who lives in your house.."
Time for a little more discussion about how West seems to literally have no clue that Aurélia is Colin Firth's housekeeper. She also assumes that because we know that he ends up in love with her, that he is in love with her right now, and everything he does reflects that. In reality, we are watching the two of them fall in love. We are seeing them talk to each other just about as much as you would expect of a tenant and a housekeeper.
Can't fault her criticism of writing a novel on a typewriter in the open air, though. That's utter madness.
Billy Bob Thornton
Next up we have an issue with Billy Bob as the US president, and a reveal that the writer is, in fact, American. The character is also, for the record, something of a sendup of Bill Clinton. Y'know, the actual horny president who would have reacted exactly like this in front of an attractive woman. Getting upset about that portrayal is laughable. (Don't even get me started about #Trump).
"How are you not gonna answer the president of the United States when he asks you how your day's going, Natalie!? Too busy thinking about ham, I bet."
What's apparently more upsetting is that Natalie doesn't reply to his query about how her day is going. Possibly because the last time she met a powerful man for the first time, she released a torrent of swear words on him and probably nearly lost her job? Or because that's actually an incredibly British thing to do — "how are you" is responded to by nodding and smiling.
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David Beckham's Left Foot
"HE'S TALKING ABOUT HIS PENIS, YOU GUYS. It might be a small penis, but it wrote Harry Potter.
"Everything in this movie is fucking insane. That's not how press conferences work. That's not how diplomacy works. That's not how prime ministers work. NOTHING IS HOW ANYTHING WORKS."
Next up, we decide to ignore the entirety of the diplomatic visit plotline and make Grant's speech all about the woman. As it happens, we get screeds of buildup about how the administration isn't happy with the US, about how they are ignoring British demands, how they aren't willing to change anything to benefit the UK, and how the entire staff of Downing Street is pissed off about this. This is hammered home, even in that scene where Grant walks in on the president and Natalie having something of a moment — because he left him alone to get another file and the president made a smarmy comment about how he won't give the UK anything.
In case we haven't grasped it, the president is an ass. The PM, the brand new PM, finds his feet, doing what he should have done all along by standing up to him with a rousing speech. Is it to do with Natalie? Of course. Is that all it is? Of course not. We see the staff celebrating, not connecting his speech to his attraction to her at all — which means it made sense in another context as well. It's not just about her. It's about their relationship (such as it is) inspiring him to become a better man. Y'know, the way relationships are supposed to make the people in them better?
"Hugh Grant decides he needs to fire Natalie because she's 2 tempting 2 believe."
He then has her "redistributed." Now, the assumption here is "fired," but that's not what happened. We know that she still works for the government because her family is (relatively) unsurprised that he shows up at the door and needs her for work. He didn't fire her. He moved her to another position where she wouldn't be in contact with him. Perhaps this is because he just can't afford the scandal of having a relationship with a subordinate (another dig at Mr. Clinton there). Perhaps it's also got something to do with her apparent inability to be around world leaders. She swore her face off at him and then nearly dry humped the president. Perhaps this is not an employee that you want in a face-to-face capacity with world leaders. He also defends her size for, like, the millionth time, when his bitchy right-hand woman calls her chubby.
The Wedding Video
This is one of the hardest parts of the movie to defend, but I'm going to give it a shot. Kiera Knightley (wearing a perfectly acceptable hat, thank you very much) goes over to view the video Andrew Lincoln filmed at the wedding, despite the fact he has already made it very clear that he doesn't want that. For obvious reasons.
"Turns out, the wedding video he took is 100% close-ups of her face because the dude is a fucking psychopath. Thanks, Love Actually. Thank you for telling a generation of men that their intrusiveness and obsessions are "romantic," and that women are secretly flattered no matter what their body language says."
There's no denying that the video should not have been just of her. It's creepy. However, in the pre-Facebook days of Love Actually, this is less comparable to frightening stalker behavior, and more comparable to scrolling sadly through someone's Instagram. Which, admittedly, isn't the best thing in the world to do, but most of us have done it at some point. Her strolling in uninvited and watching it despite his protests is like being caught creeping your ex's social media. It's a bit pathetic, but no one is calling the police. (Side note: In Britain, 911 is 999.)
She's also not flattered. She looks shocked, and he looks utterly appalled. He runs out of his own house to get away from the situation. There is zero romance here.
The Drumming Plan
Here, we have an 11-year-old correcting his father when he refers to Joanna as "your girl". Because, even at 11, he is aware that it's not OK to claim ownership of a woman. But this is completely ignored in favor of, say, making fun of Kiera Knightley's hat. Joanna is leaving, so Sam is sad. His dad watches Titanic with him, because screw your gender-normative ideas that men can't watch romantic films when they are sad. Then Dad, continuing to be incredible, doesn't tell Sam to win her over. Rather, he tells him he's sure she is fantastic, but that there are plenty more fish in the sea, which is essentially the best advice ever for unrequited love.
"Liam Neeson and Jojen Reed relax and watch Titanic to regroup, because that's something middle aged men and little kids do together. Jojen is still totally stumped about the best way to force Joanna to love him against her will. I mean, he's tried everything. He tried staring at her, he tried never ever talking to her, he tried complaining to his dad, he tried watching Titanic...seriously, what is it going to TAKE, Joanna!?"
But all of that is ignored because the kid decides that girls tend to like musicians (which is, let's face it, kinda true). This kid has decided to believe in true love, and rather than crushing it, Dad decides to go along with the plan to let his kid learn a musical instrument to impress the girl he likes. Something he chooses to do because he knows that Joanna loves music. My God, attempting to find common ground with a romantic interest. How awful.
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Laura Linney has been trying to get Karl's attention for weeks. She's been dressing up and trying to talk to him more, but she keeps chickening out. (Note: When Linney fails to just go talk to her romantic interest, it's not called out at all.) Luckily, it turns out that he is also shy but into her, and he asks her to dance. They end up going back to hers (yay!), but then we learn why she is always on the phone; she has a mentally ill brother who calls her a lot.
"To be more specific, Laura Linney has a mentally ill brother who lives in a facility and calls her frequently for reassurance and comfort, and she always takes his calls because she loves him deeply and feels responsible for his well being now that their parents are dead.
Ugh, women with mentally ill brothers are such boner killers.
DEALBREAKER. Karl's out."
Which would have been appalling, had that actually happened in the movie. It doesn't. Karl, in fact, is incredibly kind and understanding. She tells him what's up, and he says that it's OK, that "life is full of interruptions and complications," and that he understands. They get back to it, but the phone rings again, and she ends up leaving to go take care of her sibling.
She kicks Karl out. She puts an end to what they both wanted because she feels that she just can't balance her work, her brother, a boyfriend. Which sucks. It sucks for both of them, and we see it sucking for both of them. We see Karl being sad, but not pushing it, because he's a decent human being, and if she doesn't want to be with him, that's OK.
"Alan Rickman buys a fancy sex-necklace for vagina-secretary and Emma Thompson finds it in his pocket and gets all excited and then cries when all she gets for Christmas is a Joni Mitchell CD that I'm sure she already had because she said earlier in the movie that Joni Mitchell is her fucking favorite singer. But I'm sure you found a SECRET JONI MITCHELL CD she'd never heard of, Alan Rickman. Asshole. Anyway, I hope Emma Thompson learned her lesson about being a human being made of perishable cells. Guh-ross."
Alan Rickman has a horrible affair and gives his lover thing a necklace. #EmmaThompson finds out, and it's heartbreaking. But here's the thing that everyone forgets. Thompson is a badass. She finds this out, takes a few, pulls herself together, and goes to be the best damn mother she can be. Why is this not celebrated? Why is this not seen as an incredible moment to show how strong she is as a woman? Nope, it's her being "punished" for being fat and gross.
Also, we can assume that, given that Rickman lives in the same house as Thompson, he looked at her CD collection and found out which Joni Mitchell CD she didn't have. And once again, the word "favorite" was never used.
"That best man guy shows up at Keira Knightley's house and spawns a decade of nice-guy emotional manipulation reframed as 'romance.' And Keira Knightley fucking kisses him for it."
This is something that we have to talk about. A lot. Because people hate this scene. They hate this guy with a passion, and the word "stalker" is routinely tossed about in reference to him. However.
- He's known this couple for long enough for them to meet, get engaged, plan a wedding, and get married. Let's assume that's a few years. Within that time, he has actively avoided her because he knows his feelings are inappropriate. This is the polar opposite of stalking. If he'd filmed more frames of the rest of the wedding and just pined after her in secret for another three years, no one would have known. That's how not stalker-y and non-intrusive his behavior has been.
- Now that his secret has been unintentionally revealed, he feels awful. He wasn't trying to emotionally manipulate her or steal her away, he was trying to avoid her, and now she knows he has feelings. It's time to explain.
- The big sign scene is, in essence, Lincoln telling Knightley, "OK, don't talk while I explain, because this is really difficult for me to say." He's set up a big scenario, not in an attempt to seduce her, but in an attempt to prevent a long conversation and to say what needs to be said without messing up. He's got flashcards, because he needed to get this right. If this was done over a coffee, instead of a picturesque street, this would be applauded — he's attempting to explain what happened, to avoid further awkwardness in a difficult situation.
- Finally, just in case we weren't sure of his intentions, he literally holds up a big fucking sign that says: "WITHOUT HOPE OR AGENDA." This is a straight-up moment of honesty, and all that he intends to do is explain himself and walk away, and then start fresh next year.
The only thing I agree with is that she's right to be angry about Knightley's reaction. What is she doing kissing this guy?! He's said he has feelings for her, and she kisses him when he is already walking away, despite her new husband sitting upstairs. She's the one who should really be wearing the bad-guy crown, here.
If there is one thing that I will be forever in West's debt for, it's the term #cockblocktopus. Genius. However, once again, I'm left wondering if we are watching different versions of the same film.
"He hops in the Misuse-of-government-funds-mobile and has the driver take him to Natalie's street, where he knocks on every door looking for her, because apparently the UK government does not keep records of the contact information of recent employees AND ALSO THE PRIME MINISTER DOES NOT HAVE A CELL PHONE.
Hey, prime minister, we all like making out with fat chicks, but WHY DON'T YOU EVER GO TO WORK? DON'T YOU HAVE AN ENGLAND TO RUN?"
First up, as we've already established, he didn't fire her. The HR department would, presumably, have a record of her address, but it's evening (and probably the holidays), and chances are staff aren't in. If they were, they would also want to know why he needs it, or why he would need the number of someone who is now working in another area. In order to find her, he has to recall where she said she lived, or wait until the new year. I guess he could have waited 'til the new year, but it's a Christmas movie. C'mon.
Also, he was working. He was in the process of doing his work, despite the fact that it was past knocking-off time, when he found Natalie's Christmas card in his briefcase. Do people think that politicians never take a moment off?
Colin Firth And Misunderstanding Sex Slavery
We're starting to wrap up all the origin stories from the start of the movie, and next up is Colin Firth and his Portuguese housekeeper. After spending weeks learning to speak Portuguese, he decides that he doesn't want to spend Christmas with a giant extended family, but to fly to her and confess his feelings.
"So he abandons Christmas dinner with his loving family and flies back to France. The one expression of genuine love in this movie and Colin Firth peaces-out."
No. Stop. His "loving family"? You mean the brother who banged his girlfriend and the mother he rarely sees? The kids who immediately start chanting "we hate Uncle Jamie" when he says he has to go? That loving family?
"Colin Firth and this entire French village (who, again, apparently all speak only Portuguese) finally arrive at the restaurant where Aurelia works. Rumors are running wild among the crowd at this point. When they get there, Aurelia looks horrified and is like, 'What the fuck are you doing at my work!? I don't even know you, dude! Get out of here! Oh my god, I'M TRYING TO RUN A RESTAURANT HERE. GO AWAY, YOU CREEPY ENGLISHMAN.'"
Seriously, how does the entire Portuguese village with everyone speaking Portuguese not tip this person off that Aurélia went back to Portugal?! She did some seasonal work as a cleaner, and is now home to work as a waitress. (Speaking of which, waitresses don't "run" restaurants. Although some might act like they do.)
We do also see him arrive at Marseilles at the end, but given that everything else in the movie points to her being back in Portugal, I'm assuming that that is the continuity error. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's still a duck even if you hang a "Marseilles" sign on it.
She also doesn't look particularly horrified. She looks confused (as well she might be, seeing the guy she was into at the head of a huge crowd at her workplace), but far from horrified. But, as we know from subtitles, she also developed a huge crush on this guy while working for him, loved spending time with him, and kissed him before leaving at the end.
"No. Just kidding. She agrees to fucking marry the guy. Forever. Even though they have never spoken."
She doesn't agree to marry him that night, or anything. It takes them a month, which is still a really short engagement, but whirlwind marriages do happen.
Sam's Mad Dash
Wrapping up another story, Sam the drummer finished his concert, but still doesn't think that Joanna has noticed him, so his father says, "Just tell her then," given that he has nothing to lose now. Given that this is the thing West has been screaming at him to do this whole time, you would think it would be mentioned.
"Oh, also Jojen Reed has now chased Joanna all the way to the airport, where he's broken through security and is leading agents on a 'wacky' chase to the gate.
I feel like this scene would have been way less wacky if that was a brown kid instead of a white one."
This is the only takeaway for the entire scene. Not that he eventually gets there, and then she rushes all the way back again to kiss him, but that it's only wacky because he's white. Yes, there is something to be said about the cultural relevance of chasing down a girl at an airport in this day and age, but at least they explain how he gets to the gate in the first place. Plus, there are four airport security personnel chasing him down — they hardly just shake their heads and let him go.
Colin Frissell's Souvenir
Last up, we end on the intentionally ridiculous Colin.
"In a painfully fitting finale, Colin returns from America with the woman he got. He literally brings her back to England with him like a fucking airport souvenir. But don't worry, Tony, HE IMPORTED AN OBJECT WITH NO AGENCY FOR YOU TOO. HERE, PUT YOUR MOUTH ON IT."
Because the rest of Colin's story has been ignored, allow me to catch you up. He does follow through on his plan to go to America to find cool women, and travels to Wisconsin. His friend keeps telling him that he's an idiot. He does, however, wind up meeting a gang of stunningly attractive blonde girls in the first bar he visits, all of whom want to have sex with him that very night.
Yes, this one is ridiculous. Utterly, totally, entirely — and that's the point. Colin's story isn't meant to be taken seriously, and no, British people don't actually think that all Americans wear cowboy hats à la Shannon Elizabeth here.
This story is meant to be totally implausible, but within that the critiques made don't work. The only thing that we know about Colin's girl is that she loves English guys, which presumably means she has a bit of a fascination with England. She falls for Colin and comes back for a visit. She brings her sister to visit, too. This is her holiday. As for her sister being an object for Colin's friend to "put your mouth on"? Well, she barrels up to him and snogs him without so much as a proper hello — a scene that is actually my least favorite in the movie. Who is to say he wants that?! Unwanted sexual contact, much? Why doesn't West have an issue with this dude being assaulted by a girl in spangly chaps?
The End — Except Not
West wraps up here, with this final thought:
"That's love, kids. Oh, wait. Actually, it's shit."
And if you feel like a huge, vast swath of movie was left out, you're right.
Bill Nighy's character has an entire storyline, not just a scene at the start of the film. It's a redemption story, one where his self-awareness as an over-the-hill pop star leads to him finding success — and one where his romance is a bromance. He ends up spending Christmas with his manager, because he recognizes how important their friendship has always been to him. Along the way he makes many, many cracks about "half-naked birds," but that's his shtick.
West also completely ignores another entire storyline, probably because it's downright impossible to nitpick. That would be our two body doubles, who are shown getting to know each other over the five weeks, chatting about politics, traffic, whatever. They are polite and kind to each other, and then John asks Judy if she would like to go for a Christmas drink "nothing implied," and she happily says yes. After the drink, he drops her off at home and she has to make the move because he is too nervous to, and he is absoutely thrilled.
In short, he is a perfect, amazing gentleman from start to finish, so of course West leaves him out because it doesn't back her theory that this is a horrible movie.
The Big Problem
The problem with West's need to despise Love Actually is that the resulting commentary on it is entirely one-sided and incredibly critical. At multiple points, she completely (seemingly willfully) misunderstands the story being told in order to make it sound worse, and attacks such minor points that it becomes obvious that there is nothing the film can do to win her over.
More importantly, the nitpicking detracts from the real issues of the film. The piece comes across as an attack, rather than a well-thought-out criticism of some of the flaws. And there are flaws. Even a diehard fan of the film like I am can see that.
- It's painfully straight. Not one character appears to have even the slightest LGBT leaning. Not even a background character.
- It's painfully white. While there are a few sidelined characters who are of Afro-Caribbean descent (Joanna, Colin's friend, Peter, the PM's second in command, a nameless DJ, etc) all of the major players are white. There's also a glaring lack of any other race — which is particularly unrealistic, given that the UK has such a large Asian population.
- It's painfully male. Despite there being multiple romantic storylines, every one of them focuses on the male perspective. The women exist as satellites who we only see when the men are around, whereas we see the men on their own.
Beyond the holy trinity of white, straight, maleness that is difficult to miss, it only passes the #Bechdel test on a technicality. Throughout, the various women rarely talk to other women at all, and when they do, it's a matter of a word or two, mostly about the men. Sarah does tell Mia to turn the music down, though, so that's technically a pass. Still, there is a lot to be said about the relative silence of the women compared to the men. Then there is the underlying issue of women being portrayed as prizes to be won — an issue that plagues #romcoms as a whole.
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All of that legitimate criticism, however, is washed out by a slew of scattered complaints that often don't make sense — and that's not helping anyone talk about the actual issues. It just adds to a cacophony of hate that leads to others brushing off real concerns.
The Final Verdict
Love Actually is not a perfect film. But it is nowhere near as "shit" as West makes it out to be. The real issues with the film are also issues that are found across the entire genre (really, across the entirety of cinema). Women and minorities take a back seat to men, and that's not acceptable.
Despite all that, I still actually love Love Actually.
It shows us love stories between parents and children, siblings, friends, couples — something that few other romantic comedies do. It shows us love stories that don't end with a traditional happily ever after — the recovery from an affair, the choice of a brother instead of a boyfriend. It shows the loss of love as well as the gaining of it, and the awkward painfulness of both legitimate grief and unrequited desire, and it balances that with some all-out silliness. It does what it promises at the start — it shows us that love, different kinds of love, is all around us. And putting aside the flaws in the delivery, the message is more important now than ever.
So put your feet up, grab some eggnog and someone you love (any kind of love!) and rediscover the magic of this Christmas classic. We all deserve a dose of the warm fuzzies from time to time — nitpick free!
Is Love Actually really that bad? And tell us about your favorite festive season movie in the comments below.