Like most people, I was obsessed with Love Actually when it came out in theaters 11 years ago. It appealed to me as an anglophile and as someone who self-flatteringly believed fancied “unconventional” love stories (Omg look, they don’t all have happy endings, YALL this is high art! – my 21-year-old self).
So deep was my love for this film, that at one point my best friend and college newspaper co-editor had to literally stage an intervention at midnight on a Sunday to confiscate my DVD after I began speaking in a Hugh Grant accent during a newsroom staff meeting.
That was some nine or ten years ago, and I’ve had some sparse viewings of the film after that. In the time since then, I’ve become exponentially more aware of the problematicy-problematicness of the society we live in, chiefly, how casual sexism and racism nefariously seeps into our everyday lives and gets internalized like the love of a good cheese.
So, when I watched it during a recent holiday film night recently, my immediate reaction was:
Back the fuck up – How could this practically dystopian post-apocalyptic film in which London is all White and women have been rendered as mere objects and stalking is legal (and apparently rewarded) have been one of my favorites during my early 20s? What next, am I going to remember that I was a low-key meninist who voted for Bush in 2004?
For starters – how are there only three characters of color among an ensemble cast of practically a small English village? And why are they only supporting cast, who basically say three lines among them?
Tony: “Um, could you take your top off this time?”
Johanna: “Of course I do!”
Peter: “Oh its– (unintelligible garble)”
The guy on the far right is all of us upon realizing what they did to an Oscar-nominated actor Chiwetel Eijofor.
Also, how are there zero Desis, Asians, Arabs, or literally any race besides black and white in this film, which is set in one of the most diverse cities in the world? Even if we go by 2001 census numbers, given that this film came out in 2003, only 71% of London is white. So the producers went to some staggering lengths to legit whitewash this film, and give people of color no visibility.
Oh, but wait. The deliberate whitewashing isn’t even the worst of it BY FAR.
We have some creepy-ass A-level stalking here by multiple men. I could write a 100-page denouement on the sleazitude in this movie and how it sends the worst message, but I’ll summarize it in points here for brevity.
– First a woman is stalked by HER HUSBAND’S BEST FRIEND who btw doesn’t actually speak to her or meaningfully interacts with her in any way, but still manages to take a whole creepy wedding video of just her face (literally the kind you would see a serial killer play of his future victim in Law & Order: SVU), and then somehow *accidentally* allows her to see it? His derpitude doesn’t even stop there, as he has the gall to show up to THEIR HOME mere weeks after their wedding, when the couple is trying to have a nice quiet evening together and professes his undying love for her. He *tries* to maintain a semblance of not dripping in patheticness, by stating that he hopes to finds another literal object of affection (but only a supermodel, keeping in tune with his dedication to superficiality, obvi).
– Next, we have a horny prime minister who dances alone in his prime ministerial home, because he eye-fucked a member of his office staff. First, a little more on this staff member though – she is relentlessly fat-shamed throughout the film, as everyone in the Prime Minister’s staff abandons all decorum and calls her “the fat girl.” The kicker is that she’s not fat at all, but even if she was, how about we all chill out and not vilify a woman for, you know, not being stick thin?
The tragedy of this staffer doesn’t end there, as she is subjected to inappropriate contact by – get this – the President of the United States. The outcome of her being a victim of harassment? SHE IS THE ONE WHO IS FIRED. Later the PM takes a creepy page out of the playbook of “best-friend-wife-stalker” and shows up unannounced at her home, where she is yet again fat shamed, but this time in public, when her uncle calls her “Plumpy.” SHE then apologizes for the harassment incident, in spite of being the one who was sexually harassed and then punished by having her livelihood taken away.
– We then have a crotchety writer who falls “in love” with his Portuguese housekeeper, in spite of them not actually exchanging any words between them, because words are overrated when you can just creepily stare at the ass tat of your housekeeper.
I MEAN, BUTTCHEEKS, Y’ALL.
Also, his wife cheated on him a hot five minutes ago with his brother, and he takes exactly zero seconds to process his grief or give himself time to recover. Sounds healthy.
– Underage stalking? Why yes, please!! Liam Neeson’s stepson shows up to the airport to tell a girl from his school – well, I don’t even know what he wanted to tell her, because he just sheepishly passes her a note, without knowing if she is or ever was interested in him. This happens after he spends the whole movie creepily pining for her attention, instead of speaking to her.
Because women + words = GROSS.
*Pausing here to pat my poor, heave-sobbing 21-year-old self on the back. Oh, how she was betrayed by the pretty accents and cheesy dialogue.*
On that note, can we further discuss how the women barely speak in this movie?
In this post-apocalyptic world of Love Actually, women are actually objects that barely speak or are only spoken to by their love interests in order to spark a courtship. Five of the main “love” stories hinge on a complete and utter lack of communication between the piners and the pined for (Mark/Juliet, Aurelia/Jamie, PM/Plumpy, Sam/Johanna, and Karl/Sarah).
I can only imagine that the pervasive idea here is that as long as the woman looks good, who cares if thoughts exist in her cute little head.
If women were allowed to form more than two sentient sentences throughout this 2+ hour film, then maybe, just maaaaybe, Laura Linney’s character could have actually USED HER WORDS to talk to “Carl” (who by the way is Brazilian in real life, but is given the the whitest name possible because GOD forbid the three minority quota be breached) and explain how she has an institutionalized brother rather than just sulk with her boobs out?
Next, we get to our American problem. I get that in the early aughts it was ~totes vogue~ to hate on Americans, but this film portrays us exclusively as ditzy sluts or slimy world leaders. Perhaps if they had offered a sliver of nuance to their critique or had it not been so quite exaggerated among a landscape of other cinematic atrocities, I could have looked past it. Instead, they opted for a campy, unfunny way to squeeze in some overused stereotypes about Americans, in an already bloated plot.
Finally: That God-awful necklace. DEAR GOD.
Behold this legitimately tacky “exclusively from the Sky Mall Catalog of your nightmares” piece of crap that was the centerpiece of what was supposed to be the most profound vignette in this film: the one where Snape cheats on Professor Trelawney. Why they decided to have people’s lives be destroyed, and betrayals revealed via a dumpy necklace probably from Claire’s exclusive 1998 middle school line is one of many avoidable travesties of this film.
In conclusion: I get that films aren’t made to mimic real life, and cinema needs to come with a healthy dash of the ridiculous and dramatic so we can give ourselves an escape from our own stressful lives.
I just wish someone had told me years ago that this movie is shit, actually.