It was with a tremendous surprise to me that, when researching Love Actually, I found that it came out in 2003 to mixed reviews. The now-lauded staple of every true Englisher’s Christmas was not always the cultural sensation that it is now. Regardless, the classic status that has evolved in the decade-and-a-half since the film came out is not warranted. Love Actually should be submitted to the past, wiped from our Christmas traditions like the X Factor Christmas Special (or, just the X Factor).
Love Actually is a vapid study of love and romance. It tells us nothing interesting about the emotion, and instead plays into banal myths about it. What is so irritating about this is that the film proclaims this is what Love Actually is.
Love, according to Love Actually, is something people who have never spoken to each other share. Love, according to Love Actually, is the prerogative of men to hold over women. Love, according to Love Actually, blossoms when one party stalks the other so much that they are obliged to fall involve with their stalker.
It’s not just another cynical cash-grab using lazy tropes about love; it’s cynical cash-grab actually celebrating lazy tropes about love.
Richard Curtis commits the cardinal sin he commits in each of his movies: he does not write female characters. He has females, but they’re not characters. They’re empty. They’re plot devices. They’re there for the men and boys in the film to ogle over.
He doesn’t write the men particularly well in this film either (how can you develop anyone when there are 24 or so noteworthy characters). But if you want to get a sense of his passive sexism in this film, pay attention to how much dialogue male characters are given compared to the female characters.
You may point to Emma Thompson’s character. Well done! That’s one character that actually has something semi-interesting happen to her. All the others have a male fall in love with them and then just accept their love, no questions asked, even in the cases where they haven’t even fucking spoken to each other.
Now a brief statement on the positive parts of the film. It was well acted and I think I laughed three or four times. The End.
Richard Curtis does not write female characters. He has females, but they’re not characters.
Well, not quite the end. I want to comment on another theme. Love, Actually has a certain English charm – which I can tell you, as a professional Englishman, does not exist. One of the cardinal sins of many middle-brow BBC-inspired British writers is the idea that their primary audience aren’t British. This in itself is not a bad thing, but what it inspires is a screen culture of pandering to others’ misconceptions of British life. As an aside, I would love to see a state-of-the-nation film colab between Richard Curtis and Ken Loach, whose conflicting ideas of Britain are almost civil war-inducing.
I wanted to comment on a feeling I got when watching the Love Actually. To someone born in the late-90s who cannot even remember the release of this film, it already feels quite dated. Though I don’t remember the film, I remember the England that it portrays. The sanguine land of Britpop, New Labour, and blissful ignorance of the still-pervasive class differences. It was a time that the Prime Minister could conceivably be a young bachelor and people listened to Joni Mitchell. That seemingly harmonious age has been brutally murdered in the past few years, but Love, Actually captures the feel of it. Ultimately, like the film, the age was a farce: only great if we chose to ignore the obvious blemishes.