This blog is a response to: “Love Actually Is the Least Romantic Film of All Time“.
Before I dive into my own analysis on what commentary “Love, Actually” (L,A) provides its audiences, I’ll first say that I am not one that believes this movie falls into the “holiday movie” category. I know a few people who do. These people also believe that “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie. You can make your own inferences.
So, is L,A really about romance? I would certainly categorize this movie more quickly into the “ROMCOM” category than a holiday classic. It has all the traditional markings of one – comedic moments (Bill Nighy) mixed with irony (Lincoln and Knightley), idyllic fairytale-ish occurrences (Colin Firth; Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and heart break (Liam Neeson).
But even a blind, deaf, and dumb person could figure out in the first 15 minutes that L,A is not your NORMAL, run-of-the-mill type ROMCOM. Because it’s NOT about ROMANCE. In this respect, I agree with the above article that it’s not a romantic movie. AND THAT’S WHAT MAKES IT GREAT.
Let me explain. While the movie isn’t about romance, it is about love. Just because LOVE is in the title, doesn’t make it a foregone conclusion. This movie actually requires a lot more soul searching and philosophizing than most powderpuff ROMCOMs. Honestly, I believe this movie offers a profound commentary on how LOVE, ACTUALLY is.
I’ll jump right into the thick of it: Let’s consider the plot line surrounding Emma Thompson’s and Alan Rickman’s characters. It can’t get much more real than this. It happens everyday – an office love affair. Not to mention the cliche of a boss and his secretary. Now, is this about the wonderful world of love as the traditional Hollywood archetype portrays? Hell no! The story highlights the complexity of actual relationships, especially marriage. They aren’t all rainbows and butterflies. If we don’t work at it, things lose their luster, excitement fades, and complacency sets in.
Concession: It is a little ridiculous that all he did was buy a necklace for his secretary and this brought the marriage to shambles. But I guess this goes back to the idea brought up in “When Harry Met Sally”: Marriages don’t break up on account of infidelity. It’s just a symptom that something else is wrong.
I think the ever more tragic story line is Laura Linney’s. I may be taking a big leap on this one, but hear me out. Linney’s character supposedly felt instant infatuation for Karl around two years and seven months ago when she first started working at her job. But, for fear of abandoning her brother, she never did anything about it. And, let me just say, I do believe she loves “Karl”. Infatuation doesn’t last two years and seven months ESPECIALLY if you’re around that person everyday. It either dissipates or grows. Unfortunately, for Linney, it never quite outgrew her brother’s dependency on her. And this is the tragic lesson – sometimes you cannot help who you love unconditionally. And, very often, it’s someone you don’t want it to be.
Concession: While I will concede with the author that the movie makes it all a little too “cut and dry”, that’s what you get with a multi-plot ROMCOM. The writer/director Richard Curtis is leaving the rest up to his audience.
Returning to the idea of “you love who you love”, we can switch to the Knightley-Lincoln debacle. I agree, this is a fucked up storyline. It’s heart-wrenching. I cry like the first time I felt my own broken heart every time I see Lincoln hold up those cue cards. I think most women understand the poignancy of this moment in the movie. He has fallen in love with Knightley during all the time he’s probably spent with his best friend. This is possible folks. It’s just tragic.
In reality, some may criticize that such an admission of love – to your best friend’s wife – is betrayal. Admittedly. But no harm, no foul, right? He’s not actively pursuing her. He’s not expecting her to leave her husband. In a spirit of honesty and the thought of “who doesn’t want to hear they are loved”, he admits his feelings. I can empathize with the idea that bottled up feelings are harder to manage. You can’t move on until you let them OUT. It’s a little selfish but sometimes we need to be for our own best interests. Besides, I don’t believe he would ever have said anything if she hadn’t started to piece together on her own.
The rest of the story lines in the movie round it out but don’t really warrant deeper thought. Grant plays the typical ROMCOM guy he always does and provides comical political fodder for any slightly anti-US of A (or anti-political) viewer. Firth is endearing and embarrassingly funny and the great lengths he goes to track his maid down are more “Hollywood” romantic. (While his feelings more likely lean toward infatuation or simple attraction, it IS possible to get to know someone or have deeper feelings without communication. The likelihood that you’ll have a lasting marriage, however, is pretty damn slim).
And as for the others, well, they lack enough rigor to even be called out.
My point? LOVE cannot be defined absolutely. Nothing can. But least of all love. Love resides in all manners, in all shades of grey (yes, I did). Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s anguish, sometimes it’s obligatory. Love is messy. Just because you met someone only ten minutes ago doesn’t mean it’s impossible to love them. Actually, you can completely and utterly love them for everything you have learned about them in those ten minutes. The triumph is for love to prevail as you learn even more about them over time. The triumph is to embrace love in all its hues.
Love, Actually isn’t about Christmas. It isn’t about romance. It’s about how we have been taught to believe that love is supposed to fit into a neatly wrapped box all the time, and if it doesn’t, then it can’t be love. Bullshit.
We love some unconditionally. We love others under strict rules. Love is how YOU define it. And it doesn’t even have to maintain the same definition. It changes, develops, matures, lightens, deepens, extinguishes and sometimes is relit.
Love, actually, is all around us. But I think we, oftentimes, don’t have on the right glasses to see it.