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Love, Actually: A Holiday Feel-Good Movie or a Messy Romance?

By David T. Valentin

As the holiday season winds down and we get ready for the new year, we reflect on the holiday movies that came out this season; picking them apart, debating whether they were just the right amount of cliché or too much, and wondering whether they’ll be holiday classics or one-time watches.

But what I like to do is look back through the years of holiday movies and ask myself, do some of these movies really stand the test of time? I find when looking back at these movies that a lot of them have mixed messages, strange plot points, and accepting some pretty shitty behavior from people. Although last year I spent some time thinking of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and its poor handling of its message on bullying and acceptance (humbug I guess, right?), this year my thoughts turned to Love, Actually and its varying expressions of different types of love.

Browsing through the internet and articles about Love, Actually the question of whether it’s a good movie seems to make the rounds every year from a few different websites. And I was genuinely curious about what other people had to say about the holiday classic.

The first time I watched Love, Actually was not actually for the holiday season, but for a philosophy through film class where we’d discuss philosophical concepts, watch a movie, and discuss how a film tackled the concepts we were talking about. Going into Love, Actually we were talking about the seven different Greek concepts of Love: Eros: romantic, passionate love; Philia: intimate, authentic friendship; Ludus: playful, flirtatious love; Storge: unconditional, familial love; Philautia: self-love; Pragma: committed, companionate love; and Agápe: empathetic, universal love.

I won’t spoil which couples and characters represented which type of love. Perhaps that could be a new game for you to play the next time you watch Love, Actually. But anyway, this exercise made it interesting because I was prepared going into the movie that I was going to see some corny love, some cute love, and some shitty love (I’m looking at you, Alan Rickman). That being said, because of this exercise I enjoyed the film because I didn’t think it was supposed to be a cheesy Christmas movie; I thought it was supposed to be a messy take on love during the holidays.

For that, I think the film excels. But if I were watching Love, Actually thinking it was supposed to be a Christmas film? I don’t think it would’ve given me the feel-good feelings that I usually want from a corny, cliché holiday film.

In an article over at Eonline they decided to put the question to the test with their staffers. The article broke down their comments into Love, Loathe, and Meh.

One of their staffers, Sydney Hom, seemed to enjoy the film for its unrealistic, mushy plot points and dialogue, but she also says that it does still put you into the holiday spirit. “Part of the fun of movies/ shows like Valentine’s Day, Emily in Paris, etc., is more escapism than anything. It perfectly captures what Christmas is: messy, chaotic, fun, and at times sad. If I have to overlook the fact that Kris Marshall is creepy and Andrew Lincoln hits on his best friend’s wife, then so be it.”

Mike Vulpo, another staffer, chimes in and says, “I don’t know about you, but the more storylines in a movie, the better.” And I have to admit that I agree with Vulpo here. One of the things that kept me interested in Love, Actually was the huge cast of characters and the overlapping stories. It was also a plus because the film didn’t linger too long on some pretty tense, uncomfortable moments (Again, looking at you, Alan Rickman).

But even within Eonline’s Love section, their staffer, Angela Cuseo, makes a great point about the pretty shitty romances in the film. “Although I am a stan through and through, I’d like to talk about a qualm I have: Mark’s attempt at cuckolding his best friend’s new WIFE with a sign that says ‘I will always love you,’ is not romantic. It has to be acknowledged that he’s not only a bad friend, but he’s also mean to Juliet for no reason and expects her to what, swoon over some fake caroling music? Absolutely not.”

Good point, Angela.

For some fans of Love, Actually, they have recently looked deeper into their rewatch of the movie and found that it has changed over the years.

Melissa Herwitt writes, “Seventeen years ago, I loved the movie because of the extraordinary cast and the fun music it featured. Looking at the movie now, it doesn’t seem like a feel-good Christmas movie to me anymore. If anything, it shows the reality that the holidays can be a difficult time for families and relationships.”

For some, the intersecting plot points are a no go for them. In an article over at Vox, she states, “The endless onslaught of instantly recognizable actors is as head-spinning as the plot points, which wind and weave together without an ounce of dexterity.” To emphasis her point, she writes, “Love, Actually fails to make viewers have a personal stake in the success of any of its overwrought romantic pairings, of which there are almost too many to count. The movie is far more concerned with shoving as many stories together as possible instead of developing people or their plot lines.”

Overall, it seems to me that Love, Actually seems to work more so as a rom-com that accidentally portrays the messy, bitter realism of love during the holiday season. For that I find the movie works best as a romance movie that just so happens to take place during the holidays. But as a Christmas romance film that makes viewers feel good and hopeful going into the new year? I’m going to have to pass on that one.