Hello, everyone! It’s Christmas, and you know what that means: Christmas movies! Now, I was going to do a Marxist analysis of the anti-capitalist undertones in It’s a Wonderful Life but I figured we could do something a bit more fitting with what The Tuesday Zone tends to be about: romcoms!
Love, Actually (2003)
So for those of you who haven’t seen Love, Actually, it’s an ensemble piece of intertwining love stories that take place during the five weeks leading up to Christmas. Now, my title describes it as a Classic American Christmas Movie, which is kind of true, in that it was made in 2003 and is so English that it’s in danger of turning your beer warm and making it
The plot summary would take, well, a long time, but basically each of the nine stories is about people in love to some extent. Each one has its unique flares, and overall this is a fun, mostly-light romantic comedy that has a great cast and a ton of delightful, witty humor.
Of course, as with most romantic comedies, there is a lot of good and bad. As for the good, Love, Actually definitely takes the high road in terms of most of the comedy, going for quiet, self-deprecating humor more often than loud and bombastic. I think it’s safe to say that we can thank the Englishness of the movie for that. American romantic comedies tend to be a bit more, well, loud.
The bad comes from, well, giving any thought to what you’re watching. This is true of a lot of romantic comedies, and it doesn’t ruin Love, Actually by any means. Most romantic comedies rely at least partially on gender stereotypes and have to cater to mass audiences. Christmas movies, moreover, aren’t exactly known for being subversive. But because it’s Christmas and no one’s probably in the mood for gender analysis, I’m gonna talk about how this movie functions in its genres. Consider that my last-minute Christmas gift.
So what else does this movie do well? First, there’s the cast. When there are the likes of Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Keira Knightley (if you’re into that kind of thing), and Martin Freeman on the same bill, there is a serious risk of underutilizing solid talent. But Love, Actually manages to balance all the characters really well, utilizing Firth’s awkward English charm, Rickman’s simultaneously daunting and ambivalent demeanor, and Thompson’s subdued confidence to great effect.
The several story lines also manage to feel distinct, for the most part. There are two body doubles for movie sex scenes who awkwardly make small talk while simulating sex, a man considering infidelity to his wife, and a recently widowed father trying to help his young stepson win the heart of a classmate. Each story follows its own trajectory and none of them are so dreadfully dull that you want the next one to start. Of course, as a romantic comedy, there’s some predictability, but we expect that. The plus side of Love, Actually‘s structure is that it can have some stories completely surprise you, thus appeasing people that want a standard love story and those that want just a bit more.
So how does Love, Actually fare as a Christmas movie? The answer is…fairly well. When I said this is a bit of a light movie, I wasn’t kidding. The theme is that “love is all around us.” Except for the worst of Scrooges, that’ll resonate with everyone during the Holiday season. Throw in the story of an old ex-rocker trying to get his song to number one for Christmas and a pageant that ties together many of the stories and boom, Christmas movie!
But even more than convenient plot devices, each story does focus a lot on opening yourself up. It’s hard to make blanket statements about this movie, but each one has a bit of Christmas spirit in it, be it forgiveness, reflection, or giving. And more than just that, there are two stories that are actually quite heavy. One woman sacrifices a love interest to help take care of her mentally ill brother. To call her selfless is an understatement. Honestly, it doesn’t really fit all that well with the rest of the movie tonally, but it is a great testament to what we value in people’s behavior around the holiday season, in particular in movies.
There’s a whole lot more to say about this movie, but as far as things go, Love, Actually is a fairly delightful Christmas movie and a much better than average romantic comedy. As far as gender and all that goes, I’ll be picking apart the nine stories next week in a more Tuesday Zone-esque look at Love, Actually. Until then, happy holidays everyone, and may your Christmas be filled with family, love, cheer, or seasonal drinks.