In our BlogDH staff meeting last Sunday, David pitched that he’d be writing his RomCom Thursday post on Love Actually. The majority of our staff lit up with excitement, but Ana was skeptical, especially after having read David’s piece on When Harry Met Sally last week and vocally disagreeing with his concerns with the rom-com. As Ana expected, David went on to explain that he hated Love Actually. The two decided to duke it out and go head-to-head over Love Actually on the site for your reading pleasure. Enjoy.
David: Any proper post-2009 discussion of Love Actually must begin by mentioning Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, the American offspring of the UK box office success. These films, though perhaps less beloved, are peers to Love Actually in box office success (actually, V-Day was doubly more successful than the other two). And of course, the American movies ripped their entire structure and premise from Love Actually. But are they all that discernibly worse?
Certainly, I am not qualified to answer the question—I’ve seen neither Valentine’s Day nor New Year’s Eve. But I’m inclined to respond with another question—is it possible they could be that much worse? Because Love Actually is a slog. The Rotten Tomatoes consensus for Valentine’s Day—“Eager to please and stuffed with stars, Valentine’s Day squanders its promise with a frantic, episodic plot and an abundance of rom-com cliches”—could easily swap in “Love Actually” for “Valentine’s Day” and read just as well.
What does Love Actually actually offer that’s special? Many cite the big-name cast, but for every rom-com staple—Hugh Grant, Colin Firth—there’s a strange and misplaced choice—Laura Linney, Martin Freeman, and as Roommate Reid put it, “Is that Snape?” The movie is made of a series of short “romances” that are halfheartedly kind of tied together at the end. The subplots range from “Hugh Grant is the Prime Minister but all he really wants is to bang his servile and allegedly overweight maid” to “This ugly British dude goes to America and has a fivesome with really hot Wisconsonians” to the always-popular “Husband’s best friend has stalker-crush on wife, woos her with a weird doorstep presentation.”
Let’s revisit that last one for a second. The only part of Love Actually I’d seen before recently watching the whole thing was the escalation of the best-friend-stalker-crush plotline. I was at a female high school friend’s house and it was on TV and she went, “OHMYGOD this is the best movie ever” and made me watch the scene. I thought it was a pretty sweet little thing. This guy knocks on this girl’s door and plays caroling music and shows her a series of placards telling her how much he loves her even though they can never be together since she’s married to his best friend.You figure, “Alright, they must have had a very complicated love triangle in the past. This is an unfortunate but touching climax to that triangle.” Uh, except actually the best friend has always ignored the wife and the only way she knew about this crush was when she watched his video footage of the wedding, which was a shoddily edited series of close-ups of her face. Yum, romantic.So I guess my question, Ana, is what the hell do you see in this movie?
Ana: Alright. Deep breaths. I’m going to start by saying that I completely disagree with the thought that any discussion of Love Actually must invoke Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. Firstly, these movies came seven years after Love Actually. At this point, Love Actually was a recognizable name amongst rom-com fanatics, so it made commercial sense to make Love Actually-esque movies for an American audience. Were they terrible? Yes. Is it Love Actually’s fault? Absolutely not. Just because they were inspired by the same kind of ensemble storytelling doesn’t mean the original sucks as much as the remake. That’s a pretty ridiculous comparison.I understand that some of the plot lines are underdeveloped, and the Juliet/Peter/Mark love triangle leaves much to be desired. But part of the charm of the Love Actually plot structure is getting snapshots from a character’s story in lieu of a whole, singular picture. We zero in on both grand gestures and subtle interactions that shape the characters’ relationships, interwoven with those of their extended social circle. These vignettes then come together to show all sorts of love stories.And that is what I see in this movie. Not just a boy-meets-girl-boy-gets-girl love story, or vice versa, or something less heteronormative. It’s the relationship between a father and his stepson, between lifelong friends, between schoolchildren, and so on and so forth. It showcases, albeit superficially, all different kinds of love. It reminds us that our love stories with our friends are just as important as those with our romantic partners. So, yes, it’s cheesy and predictable. But I don’t expect my boyfriend to run across an airport and try to catch me before I board an international flight. It’s not realistic. However, Love Actually is sweet, and it reminds us that love isn’t strictly romantic.
David: I don’t know how I feel about the stepfather-son thing. The kid’s mom/his stepfather’s wife just died, and all either can think about is helping the kid learn to play the drums so he can get a kiss on the cheek from some unnaturally talented 5th grade singer? That doesn’t “remind me that not all love is romantic,” it reminds me that the movie is insufferably unrealistic. If the movie’s purpose is to let us see lots of special little moments in relationships without fleshing out a single one of those relationships, why not watch a series of pop music videos instead? They also feature attractive people staring into each other’s eyes, and have aurally pleasing accompaniment rather than dialogue written by a delusional 13-year-old. In the end Love Actually is just a meaningless piece of fluff, a bunch of ultimately empty vignettes assembled to masquerade as a grand portrayal of love. And if you need further convincing, peep the film’s thoughtful dramatization of foreign relations.
Ana: It’s okay if you don’t personally like Love Actually. But it’s doesn’t mean it’s a terrible movie. The different kinds of characters and relationships portrayed in this movie appeal to a wide variety of people, so it’s easier to identify with a particular emotion or situation. That’s special. For my closing argument, I leave you with what is probably the greatest Christmas song of all time. Case closed.