Love Actually is now 19 years old, so while I appreciate this review is a little tardy, it's better late than never and I was curious to see if the film had aged better than I have.
On occasion, rewatching a 'classic' with fresh eyes can be elucidating (although my advice is to leave the DVDs of Pretty Woman and The Notebook to languish in the bargain bin at WH Smith along with Davina’s Toned in 10). In this case, the second viewing (alone in bed with a bowl of tiramisu and the electric blanket cranked up to 'gates of hell') was most revealing because guess what? Love, Actually isn’t about love at all.
I thought about treading with caution here because the movie is a British 'festive favourite', cherished by many as a feel-good Christmas classic to watch in front of the fire. But I decided against it, because Love Actually doesn’t deserve our affection. It’s a spiritless and insincere salmagundi that deserves to be in the compost bin with your leftover Brussels sprouts.
The movie begins with an aphoristic amble from Hugh Grant. "Love is not dignified or newsworthy but if you look for it, love actually is all around," he narrates as Marti Pellow flings a cushion at the telly and calls his agent. As Hugh sermonises, we watch 'normal people' arrive at Heathrow airport greeted by warm embraces from loved ones, eyes half full of happy tears. And they should cry, because wasn’t freedom of movement in 2003 grand!
But Hugh is wrong, love is not all around in this Christmas movie, in fact it’s nowhere to be found. What Love Actually pushes on us instead is a pre #MeToo imagining of high romance, where women are lovely because they are non-threatening, passive and available. Or they are bad and have severe haircuts.
Yet Love Actually can’t (and didn’t) fail because it utilises a tried (tired) and tested Hollywood algorithm for success: all-star ensemble cast and universal themes all chopped into bitesize pieces that look nice but, like those Brie and gooseberry chutney crostini you wolfed at your work do, are very disappointing and will leave you feeling a bit sick after.
Allow me to refresh your memory…