Yes, critics. We hear you. Love Actually, the 2003 holiday blockbuster, spawned some unfortunate imitators in the “intertwined vignette romantic comedy” genre.
And yes, it’s kinder to the men in the film than it is to the women. Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, previously seen as rivals for the affection of Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones’s Diary, each wind up with attractive women a few years too young for them. Emma Thompson’s character deals with the humiliation of discovering Alan Rickman has bought an expensive gift for the sleazy she-devil in his office, and our household fast-forwards past the last couple of Laura Linney scenes because they’re just too sad.
(Seriously … Karl? You’re an idiot. You ditch Laura Freaking Linney just because she has a family member who needs special care? You clearly have more baggage than she does, dumbass.)
The case against the film is best summed up by this typically incisive Honest Trailer:
But this film is more than the sum of its flaws. It’s a parade of sweet and funny moments. If you don’t like one storyline, you’ll love another.
Let’s take that a step further. There’s something to like from every strand of this web of unlikely events:
Andrew Lincoln’s pining for Keira Knightley, accidentally revealed only after she has married his alleged best friend, is relatable. And his final scene of expressing his feelings with cue cards like Bob Dylan in the Subterranean Homesick Blues video is borderline creepy but also memorable, leading to this classic SNL sendup with Pete Davidson and Amy Adams.
Or, more recently on SNL, this instant classic:
Colin Firth’s story of rebounding from his girlfriend’s infidelity (with his brother for the extra “Oh no she didn’t!” factor) with the beautiful young Portuguese housekeeper sounds unappealing in the abstract. But Firth and Lucia Moniz make it work with entertaining attempts to break the language barrier before Firth finally shows up to propose in hastily learned Portuguese.
Emma Thompson’s character goes through hell but at least gets to utter the classic line, “There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Christ?” And wayward husband Alan Rickman has a great scene with Laura Linney early in the film.
Ah, Laura Linney. She simply lights up the screen. Surely there’s an unwritten sequel in which she wound up with someone better than Karl.
Martine McCutcheon, like Moniz, makes an unbelievable character believable, radiating such charm that we fully understand why Prime Minister Hugh Grant would tell President Billy Bob Thornton to piss off and then chase after her on Christmas Eve. (And honestly, don’t we Americans deserve the sharp skewering of the skirt-chasing cowboys who rise to power here?)
If you aren’t cheering Thomas Sangster to catch Olivia Olson in the airport, anticipating their reunion as Ferb and Vanessa, you have a heart of stone. And Liam Neeson shows his pre-action film acting chops here, bidding farewell to his wife with the help of the Bay City Rollers and talking his brooding stepson through his determination to “go get the shit kicked out of us by love.”
OK, maybe we could’ve done without the story of the guy flying to Milwaukee to pick up American women, but the idea that any sort of accent from the British Isles will make women swoon is always good for a laugh, especially when taken to the preposterous heights we see here.
Martin Freeman and Joanna Page take on a wonderfully British scenario of absurdity — two nude stand-ins who chat with all the stammering, selfless good manners we expect from our accented entertainers.
And we saved the best for last. Bill Nighy is clearly having the time of his life as the washed-up rock star who manages to prolong his ride by recording a cheap record of “solid-gold shit” and then pissing on it in every interview to get England to make it the ironic No. 1 at Christmas.
It helps to have a bit of insight into British pop culture. If you’ve seen the ubiquitous TV “presenters” (we call them “hosts”) Ant and Dec — so named because our friends across the pond can’t bring themselves to say “Anthony” and “Declan” in full — you’ll find Nighy’s “Thank you, Ant or Dec” that much funnier.
So Love Actually is indeed an important film for us Anglophiles who realize that, beyond the pedantic snootiness the Brits naturally feel because they’re a few degrees less anti-intellectual than us Yanks, they really don’t take themselves too seriously. From Monty Python to The Comic Strip/Young Ones/Ab Fab school to Little Britain, much of the best British comedy is based on finding the absurdity in their orderly society. The same country that taught us all to persevere when its soldiers are being sent to die in miserable World War I trenches or its cities are being randomly bombed in World War II can show that same remarkable national spirit over trivial things like Boxing Day soccer games and talk shows that adeptly mix the urbane and inane.
And it all ends with clips of random families reuniting at Heathrow while God Only Knows plays us to the end credits.
So let’s not bury this film just because we’re ticked off that Emma Thompson and Laura Linney’s characters have unhappy storylines. The real reason we Americans haven’t treasured it is because we know damn well we’ll never do anything as good in this genre. But at least we provided a killer song for the ending.