25 Reasons Why I Hate “Love Actually”

love actually

1. I hate that Love Actually isn’t really a movie. It’s a glib super-cut of barely formed characters, rom-com cliches, director-screenwriter Richard Curtis’s patented emotion-yanking sap and a mob of British actors you know and love from other, better films. It’s sort of like a Doctor Who Christmas special, with the frantic London-at-holiday-time sentimentality and the trying too hard. Except the Doctor Who Christmas special is usually redeemed by rampaging Cybermen or Daleks, either of which would have greatly improved Love Actually.

2. I hate that Love Actually is set in London, my favorite city in the world, but the visual style consists of  tourism-board shots of all the usual landmarks and it ends up looking like these people live in a London theme park. Again, Cybermen, Daleks, maybe a few Weeping Angels . . . Is that too much to ask?

3. I hate that many people I know think Love Actually is a good movie and when I say that I hate it, they accuse me of being an anti-rom-com sourpuss. Me, who stops and watches It’s Complicated at the drop of a remote!  Look, it’s not that I hate all romantic comedies. I just hate this romantic comedy.

4. I hate the shameless, pandering reference to victims of 9/11 in Hugh Grant’s opening voiceover: “When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge. They were all messages of love.” Nothing like tenderizing your audience’s feelings — like taking a mallet to a tough piece of skirt steak — right out of the gate. Well played, Richard Curtis.

5. I hate that Love Actually has become a Christmas classic. You want to see a true Christmas classic? Track down Holiday, a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind 1938 romantic comedy starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. And then, if you still prefer Love Actually, then you deserve Love Actually.

6. I hate that ever since it oozed forth from the Working Title laboratory in 2003, Love Actually has spawned a shit-ton of star-stuffed holiday-themed rom-coms: The Holiday (not to be confused with the Katharine Hepburn movie above), Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve. [2015 UPDATE: Love the Coopers] [2016 UPDATE: Mother’s Day] And their ad campaigns all mimic the red and white color scheme and multitudinous cast shot that adorned the posters for Love Actually. The ads for Curtis’s 2013 Christmas entry, About Time, even featured the words “Love Actually” above the movie title, in the Love Actually font.

7. I hate the Love Actually font.

8. I hate the big, thudding “message scenes” that suddenly burst through the rommy-commy fog to scold you with obvious homilies about the perils of taking people you love for granted and not seizing the day. In Love Actually, it’s Emma Thompson quietly sobbing to “Both Sides Now” when she learns husband Alan Rickman is cheating on her with his secretary. And lonely Laura Linney losing her shot at cute co-worker Karl Nolastname because she has to interrupt their date to go calm down her institutionalized brother.

9. I hate that Curtis sticks lonely Laura Linney with a crappy downer of a storyline, yet still makes her show gratuitous boobage.

10. I hate that the characters are so sketchily drawn and the editing so choppy, it’s unclear what some of these people do for a living and how they’re related to one another. Quick, without Googling: Why are Colin Firth and Laura Linney at the wedding together? What kind of company do Alan Rickman, Laura Linney and “Karl” work for?  What the hell is Karl’s last name?

11. I hate the Alan Rickman-Emma Thompson storyline. If you’re going to fall back on ye olde “married man has midlife crisis and sleeps with secretary” plot, you had better make it interesting in a way we haven’t seen a million times. The only interesting person — actually, the only person — in this triangle is Thompson’s Karen. The secretary (“Mia”) is a cliche of a vamp. And Rickman’s Harry is scowly, weirdly prim and so impenetrably aloof that it’s hard to give a crap what he does or doesn’t do with either woman. Some advice? Rickman was in another movie that has become a modern holiday classic, a little something called Die Hard – maybe you’ve heard of it?  There is more storytelling panache in one frame of Die Hard than in all of Love Actually. Plus, (the much younger) Rickman’s Hans Gruber is everything Harry is not — alert, electrifying and sex on a stick. Merry Christmas!

12. I hate that the script calls for Karen, who seems like a perfectly lovely, funny mom and wife (she is, after all Emma Frickin’ Thompson), to dress like a matronly frump. And worse, she keeps calling attention to her matronly frumpiness with low-self-esteem wisecracks; she’s like an Anglican Rhoda Morganstern. “The only clothes I can get into were once owned by Pavarotti,” she says to Harry when they’re back home undressing after the office Christmas party. This is after Harry has slow-danced with Mia right in front of her. It’s another sexist trope — the wife has “let herself go,” so, naturally, it’s all her fault when the husband’s eye starts to wander. In fact, I hate all the jokes about the weight of female characters in Love Actually. Colin Firth’s Portuguese-speaking love interest has a heavier and plainer sister who is treated very badly by the script. The Downing Street tea server who ends up falling in love with Prime Minister Hugh Grant is referred to more than once as “chubby” (she’s not). But then, this is the same Richard Curtis who named a female character “Duck Face” in his script for Four Weddings and a Funeral.

13. I hate the “quirky” “All You Need Is Love” wedding scene, where a brass band and choir pop up from the pews to serenade beautiful paper-doll newlyweds Keira Knightley and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who have no personalities and appear to serve no other purpose besides getting quirkily married, because somebody always has to get quirkily married in a Richard Curtis movie.

14. I hate with every fiber of my being the fact that three of the story lines revolve around men sleeping with younger women who also happen to be their employees.

15. I hate the goofball delivery guy who goes to America to get laid by chicks who dig British accents.

16. I hate that the goofball delivery guy’s stupid storyline remained in the movie, along with the pointless porn movie stand-in couple storyline, while a storyline about an elderly lesbian couple was edited out to cut down the movie’s running time.

17. I hate that, as a result, there is no same-sex or senior citizen love among the many permutations of love in Love Actually.

18. I hate the humble elementary school Christmas pageant that looks like it was put together by Danny Boyle as a dry run for the London Olympics opening ceremony.

19. I hate Mr. Bean’s belabored comedy bit in the department store as he wraps the expensive necklace that Harry will give his soon-to-be-mistress in exchange for sex. The audiences I saw the movie with (twice in its opening week — don’t ask) were rolling in the aisles at Rowan Atkinson’s fussy attention to detail and Harry’s increasing panic that Karen, shopping nearby, could return at any time. To recap: Harry is buying a necklace for a woman who is not his wife, because he is planning to sleep with her, upon which he will present her with the necklace. Any humor in this scene is rooted in Harry’s desperation to get the necklace wrapped and in his pocket before Karen comes back. Which means, any humor in this scene depends on us rooting for Harry to succeed with his infidelity against the twin obstacles of the irksome clerk and the perfectly lovely Emma Thompson. Har-har.

20. I hate the clumsy title. Shouldn’t there be a comma between “love” and “actually”?  I hate that this bugs me so much. I hate that nobody else seems bugged by it.

21. I don’t hate Bill Nighy. Do you hate Bill Nighy? WHAT KIND OF MONSTER ARE YOU?

22. I hate the Liam Neeson storyline because that creepy kid who plays his son is like a child actor grown in a test tube. Also creepy: Liam’s character’s wife is freshly dead at the beginning of the movie, but at the end of the movie, a mere five weeks later, he’s making goo-goo eyes at Claudia Schiffer.

23. I hate the supertitles that count down Christmas.

24. I hate the closing montage of what appears to be ordinary people joyfully greeting loved ones in the arrivals lounge at Heathrow, while the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” plays on the soundtrack. It’s the easiest thing in the world to point a movie camera at heartwarming, hugging, weeping reunions and make an audience cry;  a chimpanzee with a movie camera in any airport arrivals lounge could do it. The Heathrow scene of Love Actually is one of the laziest, most manipulative bits of tear-jerking a major filmmaker has ever employed, and I begrudge Curtis every one of the tears I involuntarily gave up to him. I especially hate that Curtis used “God Only Knows” as the musical cue for the scene, because that song is as effortlessly, innocently heartfelt as the montage is putridly calculated. I hate that I now have to think about Love Actually whenever I hear “God Only Knows.” This is not fair!

25. I hate that Love Actually starts showing up on TV in September. I hate that I inevitably hate-watch all or portions of Love Actually at some point between September and January. I hate that hate-watching it has turned into one of my personal holiday traditions. Wait … do you hear what I hear? The Pointer Sisters singing “Jump (for My Love)”? Sorry, gotta go. Hugh Grant is about to shake some Prime Ministerial booty and, man, how I hate that stupid scene! I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

©Joyce Millman, The Mix Tape, 2013, 2015, 2016

7 thoughts on “25 Reasons Why I Hate “Love Actually”

  1. laurajpeterson December 12, 2013 / 8:14 am

    I love your “hate”! Daleks would definitely improve things.

    I have another way to help you hate this movie *even more*!

    One of my particular pet peeves is the cookie-cutter scoring. No need for the lush sophistication of Richard Rodney Bennett’s soundtrack to “Four Weddings and a Funeral” here! Instead, there are about three main themes of original music: 1. the wry and somewhat jaunty “ooh, I think I’m in love” cue, 2. the “heartfelt hand-wringing rumination” cue which occasionally resolves to the 3. “triumphant and meaningful success” cue.

    These three perfectly adequate, if a bit bland, pieces of music are copied and vigorously pasted all over the movie, presumably in the interests of highlighting character / plot-line continuity, with absolutely no variation. It’s lazy scoring and editing at best. Couldn’t they try switching up the instrumentation, at least? (NOPE.) Once you notice it, it makes watching the film a second or third time pretty difficult. Try counting the number of “ooh, I think I’m in love” cues you hear in the first 45 minutes. You’ll thank me when you develop a rage headache!!

    I’ve had a blog post about these cues stewing in me ever since September. When I write it and include musical references, I’ll definitely link back to your superb and funny criticism!

    FWIW, I wouldn’t say I absolutely “hate” Love, Actually but it definitely annoys me greatly. One of the reasons I do find it charming is because I’m married to a Brit myself. When we moved back here from England in 2003, he heard nothing but Carlos Santana (playing when Colin gets to Wisconsin) and he had his share of gorgeous women forgetting themselves, offering store discounts, hitting on him at the grocery checkout. He could have been a highly successful conman by now. Additionally, Colin Frissel’s actor was also in a funny sitcom called My Family with Robert Lindsay and Zoe Wanamaker prior to getting the role in LA, and we loved him in that. But definitely not Curtis’ best work. Hadn’t even picked up on the “fat” bias. Ugh.

    • Joyce Millman December 12, 2013 / 10:48 am

      Laura, if I gave a prize for the comment of the year, you would win. Thank you so much for opening up my eyes (and ears) to the musical score problem. I’m sure you’re right, and it all goes back to the essential laziness of the project.Now I have to go watch this again with the score in mind. (groan) PLEASE write that blog post! There have been a lot of hate pieces about LA, but no one has ever touched on that element. Do it! Do it now! I also checked out your site, and I am impressed! I wonder, how would you, as a composer, score LA? Have you ever just screwed around with existing films and dreamed up alternative scores? Anyway, thank you for reading and commenting!

  2. Daniel December 14, 2013 / 12:17 pm

    Great list. Adding on to the Keira Knightley and Chiwetel Ejiofor storyline is the ludicrous notion that a man would allow himself to fall in love with his best friend’s fiancé, and then TELL HER about it. I know men very well, I am one after all, and NO MAN ON EARTH would ever do that, and if they did, they would be a piece of shit, not someone to romanticize. if you start having feelings for your best friend’s significant other, you squash those feelings immediately. If you can’t, you take that to your grave.

  3. Scott December 14, 2013 / 3:25 pm

    I’m one of those 12/14 Facebook referrals. A friend, and the friend of a friend posted links to this article. I identified with the title so much that I had to give it a read. Thank you.

    I hate that the film repeatedly asks us to sympathize with and support these adulterers. I hate that it seems to be telling us that this is what love actually is. It is an assault upon love wrapped with a bow, now re-gifted every holiday season… and I hate that.

    • Joyce Millman December 14, 2013 / 4:57 pm

      Thank you for clearing up the mystery! “An assault upon love wrapped with a bow, now re-gifted every holiday season” … excellent.

    • AndyR December 21, 2013 / 9:33 pm

      Totally agree. Bravo

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