Updated: Nov 26, 2020
The Richard Curtis intertwining reworking of Richard Curtis' previous greatest hits, with less depth, reality, self awareness and likeable characters, is oft heralded as a Christmas classic. But...why?
It is a deceitful, grubby little recycling of schmaltzy tropes and the fantasy land of the absurdly disconnected wealthy of London that now feels like a Proto-Remoaner fairy tale attempting to dress up obnoxious and selfish actions as gentle heart warming comedy 'for all the family.'
It is not that it doesn’t make me laugh, giggle, or exclaim 'ha!' It is not that it doesn't fill me with a warm, near tear inducing glow of romantic comedy warmth, it does both with ease. This is partly the reason the film irks me so. It seems nothing more than a loosely associated medley of Curtis rom-com heart rending scenes, interspersed with relentless celluloid musical numbers and the all-powerful montage.
Run through the checklist, the film cites the 9/11 attacks within seconds of opening. An opening in an airport! The Cathedral of soulless gloom, the staging post for the monied. The voice over claims that the true moments of human love can be found there, I would argue often the emotion on display is a relief. It employs the Curtis crutch of swearing for laughs before we are treated to an implausibly orchestrated wedding and a heart wrenching funeral in the first reel, for characters we know nothing about, relying on our own emotional associations and efforts by competent actors to inject feeling. Remember how thinly the back story is painted on, Liam Neeseon chats with Emma Thompson on the phone, in a relationship that is never explained further than her crowbarring in the exposition that he is sad because his wife died. You think they maybe brother and sister, it's plausible, but that is actually reserved for bumbling soft touch Hugh Grant.
We are slapped with brotherly betrayal with a rapidity that leaves you unsure if you have been gaslit before an Eastender serving tea to a stuttering Hugh Grant channelling and ribbing Blair and managing to slap the US President into place whilst also putting David Beckham's feet on a par with Churchill. This character was a George Bush Jnr era attack and no doubt would be seen as subtle as Turner’s use of light compared to how a current year version would give both barrels to Bad Orange Man!
The men in the film are useless drips, making failures of their lives and relationships, unable to communicate beyond bumbling and shuffling around the women they yearnfully desire, or unable to resist the sultry charms of women younger than themselves. The comic relief of the character Colin is even built around a scene lifted in full from the cutting room floor of Four Weddings and a Funeral.
The women of the piece are barely allowed to speak or be understood when they do. Female dialogue stretches between insults, unrecognisable sounds, giggles, foreign languages or sultry homewrecking innuendo. Emma Thompson speaks more than most, and she pays a hefty price for such petulance.
The work by Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, in particular, crams a great deal of emotion into a scant storyline and Bill Nighy and Gregor Fisher actually end up giving the most poignant arc. Martin Freeman and Joanna Page are heart warmingly cute, albeit utterly awkward whilst spending most of their screen time naked and simulating sex acts that hardly seem appropriate for family entertainment. Otherwise, everyone else is delivering a pastiche of a personality they are already famed for. The channelling of Bridget Jones is clear with Laura Linney’s character living in a house modelled on Helen Fielding’s. Liam Neeson seems to almost get away with a delightful turn only to have his character "hook up" with Claudia Schiffer, playing an unattached mother, before the moss has started to grow on the headstone of the love of his life that he had so gut wrenchingly lost at the start of the film, she has become the 'Who' to his boo.
The denouement of Colin Firth’s search for love is a painfully engineered saccharine scene that sees a man proposing in a second language to a woman he has spent mere hours with in front of an entire town of spectators. A whole community in Marseilles that only speak Portuguese, it is all so multicultural and open border delightful. Please! She returns in the epilogue (after the painfully signposted and tonally deaf "child chase through airport security to get a kiss whilst guards are distracted by a musical striptease on a screen" horror show. Not sure a brown boy would have been spared the bullets) only to joke about how attractive her new fiancés' friends are, a trio who consist of two best friends who love the same girl who kissed her husbands best man. And lest we forget, the young foreigner has found love with a man who had recently had his heart broken by his partner cheating on him with his brother. Well, he can pick them.
The Andrew Lincoln and Kiera Knightly storyline works relatively well until the moment it is resolved. The kiss seems somewhat inappropriate when considered in the round of how other acts of betrayal in relationships have substantive consequences. This is played out as touching and harmless, whilst Rickman merely purchased a gift and his actions are reproached as a potential cause for the collapse of a considerably longer marriage.
It says a great deal that perhaps the most powerful shots of the film are the opening and closing montages of real people greeting family, friends and lovers at an airport arrivals lounge, shot in hidden camera style, only for production lackeys to burst out of hiding and ask these people to sign off on the use of their precious moments of return in this cynical triumph of emotional manipulation. These characters live in a world that very few of us recognize, however, in recent years the film has started to take on the personality of the Remoaner London socialite brigade. Vacuous, self involved, disconnected snobs who think their facsimile of real life and self imposed melodrama gives them authority over the experiences of others.
Love Actually is a demonstrably poor film. Now it feels like a curious looking glass for the privileged to congratulate themselves, for the hopefully upwardly mobile to benchmark themselves and the rest of us to look on aghast at what has been assimilated into culture as a virtuous edifice of how our we actually love and form relationships. This isn't love, actually, this is lust fuelled by greed and a lack of self awareness presented as 'love.' This is an audiovisual advertisement for the lifestyle of London society that the rest of the UK seems to be so detached from. These people hold relationships, social norms and loyalty in such low regard and it is telling that the act of betrayal that has such resonance in the film, is a materialistic act, not a sin of the flesh or the heart.
This is no celebration of love, it is an outlier of the culture war that led to the divided nation we see before us today, and an awful amount of padding and unpleasantness to provide a fetid cushion upon which Rowan Atkinson manages to emerge, as ever, flawlessly.
So no, I don't love Love Actually and as families sit down together to watch their betters demonstrate how they do not understand motivations of the ordinary folk, I will be ensuring my young family engages in a traditional Christmas message, some warm spirited seasonal values with the harmless sadistic violence and psychopathic forgetful parenting tale that is Home Alone...oh...hang on...perhaps the ultra violent Die Har...ahhh....no....it will just have to be Raymond Brigg's The Snowman once again.
Let us know your thoughts (and I am sure Love Actually acolytes will) and your alternative suggestions for Christmas family films in the comments below.