(KXAN) — It’s that time of year again: the season when social media users resume the age-old question about whether the much beloved and also much hated modern Christmas classic “Love Actually” is “good” or “bad.”
Released during the holiday season in 2003, rom-com writer Richard Curtis’ directorial debut “Love Actually” was a box office smash, grossing over $246 million globally against a $40-45 million budget.
Another winning draw for the film was its cast of several big-name stars, many of who’d been in many notable romantic comedies around that time, including Hugh Grant (“Notting Hill” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary”) and Colin Firth (also “Bridget Jones Diary”). Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, and others round out the multi-storyline mosaic.
As with other ensemble romcoms, “Love Actually” features several smaller plots, but over the years many have pointed out the darkness surrounding these supposed cheery storylines. More than with most holiday/Christmas movies, the debate around “Love Actually” only ratchets up each holiday season. Here’s the bad, the good, and the weird around this holiday staple.
Why do people hate it?
Among “Love Actually’s” more questionable plotlines, Harry (Rickman)’s betrayal of his wife (Thompson) by non-platonically purchasing a necklace for a subordinate employee and Prime Minister David (Grant)’s playful wooing of Mia (Martine McCutcheon) — also a subordinate employee.
The plot surrounding Jamie (Firth) has also been criticized as the character also falls in love with a woman he employs, a housekeeper who doesn’t speak English. While it’s likely meant to explore a mutually physical attraction between two people, the fact that Firth’s housekeeper is a beautiful woman who doesn’t talk much hasn’t been lost on some feminist critiques of the film.
And then there’s the possible love triangle between Juliet (Knightley), husband Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and Peter’s best friend Mark (Andrew Lincoln). You’ve likely seen memes of the film’s famous cue cards scene when Mark stands outside Peter and Juliet’s home and announces his love to Juliet — via cue cards — while Peter remains inside unaware.
Juliet returns the gesture by kissing him.
“Let me remind you that this is Mark’s best friend’s wife that he’s trying to get with, a woman he knows nothing about,” writes Vox’s Melinda Fakuade in the 2020 treatise “The case against Love Actually.” “There is no build-up — we are just meant to agree that, yes, Mark has a very normal obsession with Juliet, and that obsession is a remarkable “love.” Peter never finds out about the beginnings of this emotional affair, leaving the future of his marriage in doubt.”
Several online also remain hung up on an earlier scene in the film, when Juliet discovers Mark also made a personal edit of Peter and Juliet’s wedding video for himself. The video only shows romantic close-ups of Juliet.
“Watching Love Actually and still find it weird when Keira Knightley has no problem with Andrew Lincoln being such a creep,” writes @GMcK2012.
Meanwhile, @dannisaysh opines: “Don’t see why Andrew Lincoln’s character is supposed to be seen as endearing. Creepy at best. Even that whole card reading scene at the end is weird af.”
Grant’s prime minister-and-secretary plotline also remains unpopular with some.
While Grant’s portrayal remains popular, with some on social media saying they wish he’d replace current PM Boris Johnson, the character’s advances toward his secretary present several ethical issues.
Since Grant’s character is in a high — the highest — position of power over his secretary, the power dynamic is completely imbalanced. It can be argued the prime minister’s advances are predatory and fall under sexual harassment. Employees who field sexual advances from superiors may feel pressured to reciprocate or else tolerate them.
While some businesses/organizations forbid employees to pursue romantic or sexual relationships, others don’t discourage it so long as employees are in separate departments and/or there are no conflicts of interest.
“It’s hard to be objective when giving someone you’re dating a performance review, for example,” Amy Nicole Baker, associate professor of psychology at the University of New Haven, told Harvard Business Review.
Aside from the ethical concerns, Baker also says research into boss-employee romances shows “outcomes aren’t as good” as employee-employee relationships.
But Grant’s PM isn’t without defenders: @JamesDimasWKYZ writes, “The only politician allowed to have a relationship with their secretary is Hugh Grant in Love Actually.”
Rickman’s character also doesn’t escape internet hate, however.
“The correct order to watch Christmas films is 1) Love, Actually and then 2) Die Hard, so that Alan Rickman gets his comeuppance for cheating on Emma Thompson,” writes @katebevan.
While “Love Actually” pumps the brakes before Harry physically cheats on his wife Karen, his actions may straddle the line of “emotional infidelity,” which couple and family therapist Dr. Robert Allan told SELF is a non-physical intimacy exchanged by someone in a relationship with someone outside the relationship.
Allan explains that even without a physical betrayal, emotional cheating still feels like a violation to the cheated-on partner, as an extramarital attachment was nurtured without their consent.
In the end, Karen finds out about the necklace and confronts him, asking: “Imagine your husband bought a gold necklace and, come Christmas, gave it to someone else. Would you stay, knowing life would always be a little bit worse?”
For many, Rickman’s storyline hits too hard with each passing year, with @courtlwx saying: “That time of year again for love actually and I’m still pissed off at Alan Rickman every time.”
Critics have also panned its relatively loose relation to Christmas. While the film unfolds during the season, none of the events directly correspond to the holiday.
“Yes, it takes place in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and it features a Sisyphean parade of pop yuletide ditties,” Orr writes in The Atlantic. “But this is not a movie about peace on Earth and goodwill toward men (or, for that matter, about what toys Santa will place under the tree).
Why do people love it?
Despite whichever issues the film may pose, “Love Actually” has become a yearly staple for millions.
And its fans show up each year to defend it.
In a 2013 piece for The Atlantic, titled “I Will Not Be Ashamed of Loving Love Actually,” Emma Green explains the movie isn’t strictly only about love that is romantic. Green writes that the “love” in “Love Actually” casts a wide net ranging from animal attraction to platonic friendship to unrequited crushes.
While acknowledging it isn’t a “happy” storyline, Green interprets the Rickman-Thompson plot as a realistic and hopeful one. Green argues their marriage is much older than the others depicted in the film and explores the depths of a long life lived together. “Thompson can love her husband and feel hurt by him at the same time,” writes Green.
Green also opines that the point of Andrew Lincoln’s character confessing his love to his best friend’s wife is that he knows that she doesn’t love him back, but wants her to know that she’s loved.
“Ultimately, he decides to be honest, but in a non-predatory way: He confesses that he cares about her but asks for nothing in return,” Green writes.
The holiday tableau has remained so popular, the cast and writer/director Curtis reunited for a short film titled, “Red Nose Day Actually.” The short dropped back into the characters’ lives 13 years after the events of the first movie. The “mini-sequel” was made to promote support for Red Nose Day, an organization that works to end child poverty.
Fan fervor has even seeped into the lives of the movie’s stars, with Knightley recently telling UPROXX she was once stuck in traffic and a man in the vehicle beside her re-enacted the famous cue card scene for her.
“It was quite creepy, but it was also quite [laughs]… It was a bit awkward being stuck in traffic next (to) it. But it was also quite sweet, there was nothing [scary],” said Knightley. “I mean, it would have been much better if I could have just driven straight off, but I couldn’t. We were very much stuck there for a while.”
So while the retrospective discourse on the film continues, fans love does, too.
“The Love Actually holiday loop has begun. I will fight anyone who doesn’t think (it’s the) best movie ever,” writes @jordanpaytonsn1.
Green concludes by saying:
“Although it may have flaws, these imperfections probably make it more romantic, because they make it more true to the complicated nature of love in real life.”Emma Green, ‘I Will Not Be Ashamed of Loving Love Actually’
Just enjoy it
In the end, whether or not you think “Love Actually” is actually terrible or actually a classic, we like what we like — and you can enjoy it no matter what. It’s a sentiment also felt online.
“Fun fact: You can just like bad things,” tweets @RainbowSocksCat. “It’s a movie or game objectively trash but you enjoy it anyway? GOOD, enjoy it, and you are not obligated to explain or justify why. “I enjoy it” is a good enough reason.”
“You can still enjoy something that’s bad, you don’t have to keep going to bat for bad things, just enjoy them. Being critical is healthy,” writes @Jamesotron.
Over recent years, a move to “let people enjoy things” has emerged online — with many pushing against needless criticism of pieces of entertainment. But Constance Grady argues the concept is sometimes used by fans to insulate things they enjoy from critique.
Grady writes in Vox’s ‘How “let people enjoy things” became a fight against criticism,”: “We need to be able to call attention to the negative in order to recognize the positive. By noticing and then analyzing the negative, our entire understanding of a work of art becomes clearer and stronger.”
Additionally, Grady argues criticism is an element of art creation — that artwork is intended to be engaged with, not just blindly liked or disliked.
All of this doesn’t even acknowledge that “good” and “bad” are subjective. Different people have different barometers and tastes.
As @PersonalGenius tweeted just weeks ago, “I think we all need to admit to ourselves that Love Actually is a bad movie, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still like it.”
Meanwhile, @MirroredGiraffe opines beyond “Love Actually,” explaining: “I think people forget you can dislike something without it being a bad thing. Is it boring to you? That’s fine, someone else can enjoy it. Also, you can like bad things if it makes you happy… like who cares if the show is trash? Do you like it? That’s all that matters.”
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you — and may you refrain from confessing your love for a married person via cue cards.