What’s better than a love story set against the backdrop of the holiday season? How about 10 interconnected love stories set against the backdrop of the holiday season, populated by an A-list ensemble cast and directed by the man who brought us charmers like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bridget Jones’s Diary? Thanks to Richard Curtis and stars like Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Laura Linney, and many more, 2003’s Love Actually has bred a generation of adoring fans who count the film among their regularly scheduled holiday programming. That said, the movie’s collection of romances has inspired no small amount of criticism over the years, and not just from joyless Grinch types, either. Some of the characterizations and relationships portrayed are, let’s say, questionable in nature, and for some, no amount of cheeky Christmas-themed cheer is going to cut through that.
Of course, this means it’s up to us — and you — to settle another Christmas movie debate here on RT. Is Love Actually a modern Christmas classic, or is it just a problematic mess of a film? We present an argument representing each side of the debate from a passionate RT staffer, but it’s up to you to make the call. Read on and vote below!
Let’s first get this out of the way: Love Actually is at times terrible, actually. And it is, almost all the time, problematic. We will not go point-for-point refuting the online thinkpieces that break down all the ways it is so, because we agree. Does it fat-shame Martine McCutcheon’s Natalie and Aurelia’s sister (a.k.a. “Miss Dunkin’ Donut 2003” and woman no one could ever possibly marry)? Abso-bloody-lutely. Is Andrew Lincoln’s Mark really just a terribly dressed stalker? Yes: Call Scotland Yard! Does just about every thread contain some iffy, arguably misogynistic undertones? Kinda, actually.
But here’s the thing: as the Internet has taught us, all your faves are problematic – but that doesn’t mean we have to cancel them in their entirety. Rather, as Molly Ringwald showed in her recent essay for the New Yorker on The Breakfast Club, enlightenment allows us to grapple with past pop culture, to criticize and dissect it and call out its failings, even as we remain attached to elements of it. These things are complex. Because for all the glaring issues with Love, Actually, the movie has huge globs of earnest heart (we’ve all been as lovesick as Sam), soaring moments of joy (spontaneous wedding performance!), and Emma Freaking Thompson giving us all the feels. Plus Bill Nighy. Plus the nude couple. Plus “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Plus Mr. Bean. And on and on. And most of all, it makes a sh– ton of people happy as hell every December – people of all backgrounds and shapes. Should we consign it to the trash, like so much torn-up wrapping paper? To do so would be to deny people their annual Love, Actually pleasure, and to shut down the exact kinds of healthy conversations about art that have led the world to reassess its merits.
Before anyone starts pointing fingers, it’s not feminism that made Love Actually unsexy. It’s the film’s own misunderstandings of romance and attraction that make it problematic and, in many ways, revolting. Despite what Love Actually tries to tell you, it’s not cute to stalk your best friend’s beau, or your secretary (or your boss), or your housekeeper. Nor is it romantic to objectify your crush, or funny to fat-shame anyone. Also, it’s absolutely uncool to shame men for having emotions. (The next person to call anyone a “sissy” is getting coal in their stocking.)
“Who do you have to screw around here to get a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit?” is an actual line spoken by the Prime Minister in Love Actually. But never fear, his assistant is right around the corner to answer his demands for snacks! Later, he goes to her house to profess his love for her — but “he” is Hugh Grant, so it’s… supposedly less creepy? (Hint: It’s still inappropriate; he’s her boss.)
And don’t even get me started on the British boy seeking a “good shag” in the United States. Maybe Love Actually was trying to make a point about hyper-sexualization in American media (British pot, meet American kettle), but in order to pose such a critique, it would have had to actually be critical. Instead, it lets predatory men gawk at cardboard women — stand-ins for women with professional lives and actual personalities — over and over again. It’s meant to be funny, but again, it’s just cringeworthy.
Love Actually so desperately tries to create endearing plots for each of its celebrated cast members that it reduces each of them to outdated, now-embarassing tropes. Love Actually is no classic; it’s a relic of problematic rom-coms past.