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