It's nearing Christmas, so you know what that means: It's time for countless adaptations of The Nutcracker, more sugar than anyone should ever consume and the continued debate about whether Love, Actually is a good romantic movie.
Love, Actually is neither good nor romantic. Out of the 10 or so relationships depicted in a movie that markets itself as "the ultimate romantic comedy," none of them actually involve love, and most of them aren't the slightest bit romantic.
Let's start with David and Natalie. Before anything else, this has to be said: Natalie is not fat. So many people in the film comment on her weight, including one of her colleagues who refers to her dismissively as "the chubby girl" and says she has "huge thighs." Natalie is beautiful, and the fact that so many people comment on her weight is supposed to be funny. It is not.
Then there's the fact that David, the prime minister, apparently falls in love with Natalie because she brings him tea and chocolate biscuits every day. He falls so deeply in love that he makes impulsive and risky political decisions based on nothing but his emotions. For example, after David sees Natalie in a clutch with the president, (Billy Bob Thornton at his smarmiest), David asks that Natalie be moved to another job, thus affecting her professional history without any explanation, because he just can't control his emotions. Then when he decides he simply has to have her, he rushes into the night to find her, with government security accompanying him.
I'm sure the people of Britain were glad to know what their prime minister spent his time doing.
Another case of a man falling for a subservient woman who brings him tea is seen in Jamie and Aurelia. After discovering his girlfriend cheating on him with his brother, Jamie retreats to a rustic cabin to write a book, with Aurelia working as his housekeeper. Even though they don't speak each other's languages, they apparently fall in love after Aurelia helps Jamie retrieve pages of his writing that blow into a lake — of course, by stripping down to her bra and panties, complete with a lower back tattoo.
Jamie learns to speak Portuguese in order to communicate with Aurelia, an admittedly romantic gesture, but then proposes to her, publicly, in front of her family and apparently the entire town. (Keep in mind he had been cheated on just weeks before this. Hello, rebound!) Jamie doesn't want to marry Aurelia; he wants to marry the idea of her: a subservient, sexy and up until then, silent, woman. (Don't get me started on all the fat jokes made about Aurelia's sister.)
The sex kitten ideal is further witnessed in the adventures of Colin, a British waiter who, lamenting he cannot find "true love" in England, impulsively moves to the United States, blaming his lack of sexual success on English women being elitist. (Of course, that's the only reasonable explanation for why they won't sleep with him.) After landing in Wisconsin, Colin finds four women who fulfill every fantasy of beautiful, sexually adventurous stereotypes and are immediately smitten with his English accent. Someone should check the records for 2004, the year after the film was released, to see if a flood of British men immigrated to United States looking for better love lives.
Mia wants to be a sex kitten for Harry, her boss at a vague, nameless but apparently successful — given it can afford to throw one of the fanciest holiday parties ever seen — company. Mia shamelessly flirts with Harry, completely disregarding the fact that he is married (and his wife is at the office party when she asks him to dance with her). But Harry enjoys the flirtation so much he buys her a gold necklace and, when confronted by his wife about it, his immediate reaction is to say he feels foolish.
Apparently, we're supposed to care about how he feels, after watching him inappropriately order his employee Sarah to pursue a relationship with the office hunk, Karl. Memo to Harry: Interfering with your employees' personal lives is harassment. You're harassing Sarah. And Mia is harassing you. And how dare you even think about cheating on Emma Thompson, whose performance as a heartbroken wife is one of the few bright spots in the movie.
If the harassment angle of Love, Actually, isn't clear yet, let's talk about Mark and Juliet. Best friends with Peter, Juliet's new husband Mark is aloof and unfriendly to her, and it's quickly assumed he's in love with Peter. That's not the case, however, because apparently he's in love with her and has been filming her from afar.
That's not love. That's obsession. Obsession to the point of danger. When Juliet confronts Mark about the tapes, in one of the few direct and mature moments of communication in the film, his response is to cite something about "self-preservation." Then he shows up uninvited at her house on Christmas Eve with cards declaring his love, saying, "To me, you are perfect." Again: idealization of someone he hardly knows. Again: creepy, stalking behavior.
Yet again the same kind of idealistic worshipping from afar is seen in Sam's pursuit of Joanna. Convinced "the coolest girl in school" won't give him the time of day, he learns to play the drums to win her affections, without even giving her the chance to like him for who he is. He simply assumes she'll be star-struck and fall into his arms. (But yes, watching Sam bond with his stepfather Daniel, played by Liam Neeson, is extremely sweet.)
Decidedly not star-struck is Joe, manager to Billy Mack, with whom close but weary rapport is easy to notice. But Billy's seemingly countless comments about Joe's weight are too frequent and too cruel. Enough said.
Call me a Grinch, but I don't actually see anything to love in Love, Actually. I'd rather watch It's a Wonderful Life any day.