Its been dubbed a holiday classic, having garnered a not insignificant number of people who love it. I used to be one of them, claiming "Love Actually" as a favorite movie, not just for the holiday season but ever. Since watching it again recently though, my stance has since made a 180-degree turn for the alternate.
Love Actually is a horrible movie. Its one that claims to be about love, yet, nearly all of the "love" stories within are immature, dishonest, and/or childish at best. In fact, I would argue this film offers our culture very opposite narratives to anything resembling actual love. That many of the stories within which we claim are romantic, are actually quite problematic.
The synopsis of this film, for those who don't know it, is the following of several differing love stories. All of which are semi interconnected, though ultimately separate narratives.
Let us begin with the story of Juliet and Peter who get married as the film begins. Peters best friend, Mark arranges a beautiful surprise choral performance during their wedding as a gift. Though for the duration of Juliet and Peters relationship, we come to find out that Mark has not been especially friendly nor nice to Juliet. This indicated via Peters requests later in the movie of "please, be nice to her, Mark." As well as Juliet overtly saying to him, "I know you have never particularly warmed to me, but I am nice. Please, might we be friends?"
Fast-forward into the movie, we find out that Mark is "in love" with Juliet and hence, this is why he hardly talks to her at all. An act of "self-preservation," he claims. A majority who love the movie deem this scenario the ultimate in romantic unrequited love and empathy enducing "awwwww" reactions. I used to feel the same. Years later though, on really giving it thought, this is actually incredibly weird.
Mark hardly knows Juliet, considering he never actually speaks to her and ultimately, avoids her. You cannot love someone, not truly, who you do not know intimately and well. And this intimacy and genuine knowledge of someone which leads to and entails real love involves hundreds and hundreds of hours of intimate, emotionally open conversation. None of which these two have shared.
Thus, Mark lusts after Juliet. He is infatuated with her. He thinks he loves her. Alas though, it isn't love. Further, his lust is delusional, even borderline nutty. Not to mention, it makes him a loser as a so-called best friend.
We cannot control the spontaneous sensations of attraction, this is true. We can most certainly, however, control our thoughts and feelings from spiraling out of control. We cannot choose to whom we are initially attracted. We most certainly chose though, whether to fall in love or not. We choose whether or not to feed, indulge in, and move forward in developing feelings for someone (or not).
Think about it: when you begin dating someone new whom you like, there are initial sparks, lust, excitement. None of which is yet love. This is something that comes, and grows, down the road with much time having been spent together. Therefore, we make the choice to move forward and dive into love. To continue spending time with this person and letting those feelings grow, or, to not. Many a terrible decision has been made when filled with excitement and lust, which one may easily confuse with love. This happens all the time. The mistaking of these emotions.
Mark doesnt love Juliet. He hardly knows her. He just thinks he does, via a powerful hormonal cocktail of lust and enamourment. He is awed by and has a monster crush on her. Powerful emotions to be sure, but not love. He is childish, delusional, and not to mention, a shitty friend.
Let's move on to Harry and Karen. Harry works with a woman who makes explicit sexual overtures at him, both at work and the company party. Harry does nothing with regards to setting appropriate boundaries with her. Instead, he passively accepts such and permits the behavior. Granted, this goes both ways. The two of them each equally at fault for behaving shitty. Yet, she initiates and pushes, while he yields and allows.
Further, he buys her a gold necklace on her prompting, essentially in exchange for sex. Following her pressing "I want something pretty," when he asks what she would like for Christmas and then promising him afterward "with me, you can have everything."
His wife, Karen finds the necklace in his pocket and, assuming its for her, fills with excitement and shock at his grand gesture. Later, she is stunned and crushed when on opening her gifts, there is no necklace in any of the boxes.
Yet another storyline about cheating and lies, with really no moral lesson of worth included for there to at least be a point in it.
Next, Jaime. He leaves for a friends wedding (Mark and Juliets in fact) one afternoon, only to return a few hours later and discover his own fiance has been cheating on him. With his brother. So, Jaime moves out of the city and into a house on the coast for a few weeks, to get some writing done and get away.
During this time, his Portuguese housekeeper, Aurelia, captures his attention. Within the span of knowing her for three weeks, he has decided he loves her (despite that they cannot speak, nor understand a word of one anothers native language and therefore, cannot actually communicate), and promptly asks her to marry him.
This is delusional, obscenely immature, and absurd. It is the furthest thing from real love. Again, its lust and a crush. That's it. Shallow, fluffy, tenuous things at best. Terrifying and precarious things on which to base a marriage proposal. For gods sake, you can't even know if you like someone as a friend in just 3 weeks! You hardly know that person at all. It takes months of spending significant time with someone to really get to know their temperament, character, and what they are like.
Next, we have the Prime Minister who has a crush on his assistant, Natalie. However, on walking into a room and seeing the US President (who is visiting) standing invadingly close to Natalie, the Prime Minister says nothing (despite it being made clear that Natalie is uncomfortable with the situation). The President, leaning in and whispering into her ear and Natalie, recoiling on the Prime Minister re-entering the room, looking fearful and shaken.
Seeming to feel hurt and betrayed by the matter, the Prime Minister requests she be removed from his office. This is essentially his blaming her for being sexually harassed. Wow.
Then, on her sending a holiday card to him a couple weeks later (which he absolutely did not deserve) within which she apologizes and signs off with "because the truth is, I am yours," he goes running to her. Yikes. This poor woman is apologizing to a man she likes for having "upset him" in her being sexually harassed and his witnessing such, following which, he essentially fired her without a word! Really?
The Prime Minister should have been the one instead who, if he truly liked her and had any semblance of balls and principles, spoke up when walking into that room. Confronting the President on the spot for his inappropriateness. At the very least, he should have contacted Natalie after making the grave error he did and apologized profusely. Instead, he is a coward with no backbone nor strong morals.
Sarah and Karl are a pretty heartbreaking story. Sarah, who has been obsessed with her colleague, Karl for years. Crushing hard on him, she finally has the chance one night when they dance together at the holiday party and he comes back to her apartment. However, Sarah's life is dedicated to caring for her mentally ill brother. She forsakes all potential and possibility of any life for herself, in place of running to her brother at the drop of a hat whenever he is in need. An incredibly sad illustration of a co-dependent relationship at its extreme (as there are, of course, ways to care for someone you love while still putting up some boundaries, attending to and protecting other relationships in your life, and caring for/still having a life yourself). While there is nothing wrong with the potential of Sarah and Karl as a relationship, it's just a heart sinking story to witness.
Billy Mack is the washed up, aging, ex-heroin addict musician who sings a remake of the Troggs "Love is all around me" at the beginning of the film. While somewhat funny, he is also crude, impolite, and generally mean to those around him. Come Christmas Eve, he shows up at Joe, his manager's door, to tell him in the most unflattering and even slightly nasty of ways, that he "loves him." Making sure to speak of how ugly and fat his manager is, and how shocking it is that Billy actually loves Joe.
There are two decent characters in this heap of absurdity. Daniel and his son, Sam. Daniel is mourning the recent death of his wife, whom he loved deeply. Via this love he felt for his wife, he is able to connect with and validate his son's experience when Sam claims to be in love (who is around the age of 10). Daniel encourages Sams bravery and openness in this experience he is having with first love. This is the singular semi sweet story of the bunch.
However, Karen, a friend of his (the wife of Harry, who cheats on her with his secretary for whom he buys the necklace), is an incredibly dismissive listener when Daniel comes to her with his grief and pain over his wife's recent death. Her offering up trite, dismissive responses (this is prior to discovering her husbands cheating). Making remarks such as "stop crying. No one is going to want to have sex with you if you don't. Get a grip."
Seriously!? A supposed friend, though totally unable to be present with and ultimately, disinterested in his pain.
Lastly, we have Colin. A rude, boorish, bombastic, moronic, self-centered young man who is all about essentially finding a stand-in "girlfriend" with whom to have sex and ultimately use as a placeholder as means to feel good about himself. He buys a ticket from England to the US so he can go find a girl to have sex with. Good. Lord. The worst part? Naturally, the first bar he walks into, three model beautiful women fall for him on the spot. Riiiiiiight.
So, why is this movie such a problem? For the ideas and principles, it touts as being "romantic" and for what it teaches us about love, which is both inaccurate and wrong.
That you come to love someone in mere weeks (nope. This takes months and months of knowing someone, with much invested time and knowledge of the other person- of both their great traits and their bad ones).
This movie teaches us to be impulsive in romance- probably the one realm of our lives we should be the least impulsive and most cautious if we want things to turn out well and to choose right. It teaches us to settle fast, based mostly on lust and desire (instead of based on actually truly getting to know who a person is inside). Even offering us the belief that lust is love, which it isn't. Far from it.
Lust is certainly thrilling, pleasurable, and great fun. But it isn't love. Many people confuse this and thus, make great errors in their relationships. Movies like this perpetuate that false belief. This movie encourages settling down way too quickly with someone out of an intense initial connection (based mostly on liking what one sees, and following ones desire in the moment). In real life, this type of decision making results in, later on down the road, people often realizing that this quick decision making was based on not really knowing someone at all. Frequently even resulting in two people being quite mismatched.
This movie teaches us to be dishonest. Flippant. To cheat. It glamourizes the seductive darkness of an affair. It teaches us to be dismissive and trite in the face of pain in someone we love. To be a shitty friend. It teaches us that a man can be a rude, self-centered, idiotic fool and will still get model-gorgeous women at the drop of a hat. Uh huh.
The litany of lessons this movie subconsciously dishes out are disastrous.
The film is about a collection of people who are, for the most part: immature, manipulative, cowardly, flakey in their supposedly important relationships, impulsive and flighty, foolish, and just generally shitty. Love Actually is the worst movie, yet we tout it as being one of the top romantic, swoon worthy love films. This deserves closer cultural examination, as to why we see such a movie and think its an accurate, fabulous, and even enviable descriptor and example of love.
See below for three quotes which far more accurately describe love than any movie like "Love Actually" ever has or will. Further, one of the best books I have ever read on the topic of love, romantic relationships, parental love, and just love in general: "The Art of Loving" by Erich Fromm. It professes almost entirely the opposite of the messages Love Actually does. To truly learn about love, actually read this book ;-). And watch different movies.