Its been dubbed a holiday classic, having garnered a not insignificant number of people who love it. I used to be one of them, claiming “Love Actually” as a favorite, not just for the holiday season but ever. On watching it again recently though, my stance has since made a 180-degree sharp shift for the alternate.
“Love Actually” is a horrible movie. It’s one that claims to be about love, yet, nearly all of the “love” stories within are immature, dishonest, and/or childish at best. In fact, I would argue this film offers our culture very opposite narratives to anything resembling actual love. That many of the stories within which we claim to be romantic, are actually quite problematic.
The synopsis of this film, for those who don’t know it, is the following of several love stories. All of which are semi interconnected, though ultimately separate narratives.
Let us begin with the story of Juliet and Peter who get married as the film begins. Peter’s best friend, Mark arranges a beautiful surprise choral performance during their wedding as a gift. Though for the duration of Juliet and Peter’s relationship, we come to find out that Mark has not been especially friendly nor nice to Juliet. In fact, they hardly speak or interact at all, aside from terse and brief moments (Mark’s default demeanor with her).
Fast-forward, we find out that Mark is “in love” with Juliet and hence, this is “why he hardly talks to her.” An act of “self-preservation,” he claims. Many who love the movie deem this scenario the ultimate in romantic unrequited love and empathy inducing “awwwww” reactions. I used to feel the same. Years later though, on giving it deeper thought, this is actually incredibly weird.
Mark hardly knows Juliet, considering he never actually speaks to her and ultimately avoids her. You cannot love someone who you do not know, intimately and very well. You can certainly have a crush on them, but its a far cry from love. True depth of intimacy and genuine knowledge of someone which leads to and entails real love involves hundreds and hundreds of hours of emotionally open conversation. None of which these two have shared.
Thus, Mark lusts after Juliet. He is infatuated with her. He thinks he loves her. Alas though, it isn’t love. Further, his lust is delusional, even borderline nutty. Not to mention, it makes him a loser as a so-called best friend.
We cannot control the spontaneous sensations of attraction, this is true. We can most certainly, however, control our thoughts and feelings from spiraling out of control. This, believe it or not, is an active choice.
We cannot choose to whom we are initially attracted. We can most certainly chose though, whether to fall in love or not.
We choose whether or not to feed, indulge in, and move forward in developing deep feelings for someone (or not).
Think about it: when you begin dating someone new whom you like, there are initial sparks, lust, excitement. None of which is yet love. This is something that comes eventually, that grows following having spent much together. However, one could decide to stop spending time with someone and thus, this growth would not occur. It would be cut off before able to happen.
Therefore, we make the choice to move forward and dive into love.
Many a terrible decision has been made when filled with excitement and lust, which one may and does often easily confuse with love. This happens all the time. The mistaking of these emotions.
Mark doesn't love Juliet. He hardly knows her. He just thinks he does, via a powerful hormonal cocktail of lust and enamourment. He is awed by and has a monster crush on her. Powerful emotions to be sure, but not love. He is childish, delusional, and not to mention, a shitty friend.
Let’s move on to Harry and Karen. Harry works with a woman who makes explicit sexual overtures at him, both at work and the company party. Harry does nothing with regards to setting appropriate boundaries with her. Instead, he passively accepts such and permits the behavior. Granted, this goes both ways. The two of them equally at fault for behaving shitty. Yet, she initiates and pushes, while he yields and allows.
Further, he buys her a gold necklace on her prompting, essentially in exchange for sex. Following her pressing “I want something pretty,” when he asks what she would like for Christmas and then promising him afterward “with me, you can have everything.”
His wife, Karen finds the necklace in his pocket and, assuming it’s for her, fills with excitement and shock at his grand gesture. Later, she is stunned and crushed when on opening her gifts, there is no necklace.
Next, Jaime. He leaves for a friends wedding (Mark and Juliet's in fact) one afternoon, only to return a few hours later and discover his own fiance has been cheating on him. With his brother. So, Jaime moves out of the city and into a house on the coast for a few weeks to get away.
During this time, his new Portuguese housekeeper, Aurelia, captures his attention. Within the span of knowing her for roughly three weeks, he has decided he loves her (despite that they cannot speak, nor understand a word of one another’s native language and therefore, cannot actually communicate), and promptly asks her to marry him.
This is delusional, obscenely immature, and absurd. It is the furthest thing from real love. Again, it’s lust and a crush. Certainly thrilling and fun, but shallow, fluffy, tenuous stuff at best. A terrifying and precarious notion on which to base a marriage proposal.
For gods sake, you can’t even know if you like a new friend in just 3 weeks! You hardly know that person at all. It takes months of spending significant time with someone to really get to know their temperament, character, and what they are like.
Next, we have the Prime Minister who has a crush on his assistant, Natalie. However, on walking into a room and seeing the US President (visiting) standing space-invadingly close to Natalie, the Prime Minister says nothing (despite it being made clear that Natalie is uncomfortable with the situation). The President having been leaning in and whispering into her ear and Natalie, recoiling on the Prime Minister entering, looking fearful and shaken.
Seeming to feel hurt and betrayed by the matter, the Prime Minister requests she be removed from his office and fires her. This is literally his punishing as well as indirectly blaming her for being sexually harassed. Wow.
Then, on her sending a holiday card to him a couple weeks later (which he absolutely did not deserve) within which she apologizes and signs off with “because the truth is, I am yours,” he goes running to her. Yikes.
This poor woman is apologizing to a man she likes for having “upset him” in her being sexually harassed and his witnessing such? Incredibly sad.
The Prime Minister should have been the one instead who, if he truly liked her and had any semblance of courage or principles, spoke up when walking into that room. Confronting the President on the spot for his inappropriateness. At the very least, he should have contacted Natalie after making the grave error he did and apologized profusely. Instead, he is a coward with no backbone nor strong morals.
Billy Mack is the washed up, aging, ex-heroin addict musician who sings a remake of the Troggs “Love is all around me” at the beginning of the film. While somewhat funny, he is also crude, impolite, and generally mean to those around him.
Come Christmas Eve, he shows up at Joe, his manager’s door, to tell him in the most unflattering and even slightly nasty of ways, that he “loves him.” Making sure to remark on how ugly and fat his manager is, and thus, how shocking it is that Billy actually loves this man in spite of such.
There are two decent characters in this heap of absurdity. Daniel and his son, Sam. Daniel is mourning the recent death of his wife, whom he loved deeply. Via this love felt for his wife, he is able to connect with and validate his son’s experience when Sam claims to be in love (who is around the age of 10). Daniel encourages Sams bravery and openness in this experience he is having with first love. Granted, some of it is extreme and delusional on Sam’s end, but what child doesn't have these types of fantasies? This is the singular semi sweet story of the bunch.
However, Karen, a friend of Daniel’s (the wife of Harry, the crappy cheater who bought the gold necklace for his secretary), is an incredibly dismissive “friend” when Daniel comes to her with his grief and pain over his wife’s recent death. Her offering up trite, dismissive responses (this is prior to discovering her husbands cheating). Making remarks such as “stop crying. No one is going to want to have sex with you if you don’t. Get a grip.”
Seriously!? A supposed friend, though totally unable to be present with, supportive toward, and ultimately disinterested in his pain.
Lastly, we have Colin. A rude, boorish, bombastic, moronic, self-centered young man who is all about essentially finding a stand-in “girlfriend” with whom to have sex and use as a placeholder as means to feel good about himself. He buys a ticket from England to the US for the sole purpose of his going to find a girl to have sex with.
Good. Lord. The worst part? Naturally, the first bar he walks into, three model beautiful women fall for him on the spot. Riiiiiiight.
So, why is this movie such a problem? For the ideas and principles, it touts as being “romantic” and for what it teaches us about love, which is both inaccurate, insulting, immature, and even wrong.
That you come to love someone in mere weeks (nope. This takes months and months, with much invested time and knowledge of the other person- of both their great traits and their bad ones).
This movie teaches us to be impulsive in romance- probably the one realm of our lives in which we should be the least impulsive and most cautious if we want things to turn out well.
It teaches us to settle fast, based mostly on lust and desire (instead of on actually getting to know who a person is inside, over time and much experience with them). Even offering us the belief that lust is love, which it isn’t. Far from it.
This movie encourages settling down way too quickly with someone out of an intense initial connection (based mostly on liking what one sees, and following ones desire in the moment). In real life, this type of decision making results in, later on down the road, people often realizing that this quick decision making was based on not really knowing someone at all. Frequently even resulting in two people realizing they are quite mismatched. Then having to grapple with much pain because of such.
This movie teaches us to be dishonest. Flippant. To cheat. It glamorizes the seductive darkness of an affair. It teaches us to be dismissive, disinterested, and trite in the face of pain in someone we love. To be a disengaged and ultimately shitty friend. It teaches us that a man can be a rude, self-centered, idiotic fool and will still get model-gorgeous women at the drop of a hat. Uh huh.
The litany of lessons this movie subconsciously dishes out are disastrous.
The film is about a collection of people who are, for the most part: immature, manipulative, cowardly, flaky in their supposedly important relationships, impulsive and flighty, foolish, and just generally of crappy character.
“Love Actually” is the worst movie, yet we tout it as being one of the top romantic, swoon worthy “love” films. This deserves closer cultural examination, as to why we see such a movie and think it’s an accurate, fabulous, and even enviable descriptor and example of love.