When it came out in theaters in November 2003, Love Actually it grossed well, was nominated for two Golden Globes, and received mixed reviews. It had been written and directed by British director Richard Curtis, screenwriter of successful films such as Notting Hill and The diary of Bridget Jones, and had a celebrity cast such as Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Colin Firth and Laura Linney, to name a few. It also had all the commercial potential of a Christmas comedy at a time when there wasn’t yet the competition that there is on streaming platforms today. Among the critics, however, some defined it too cheesy, full of clichés and generally written in a too superficial way: the New York Times he called it “indigestible”.
Opinions about the film have since polarized further, and Love Actually every December, it receives a fresh round of criticism, many of which recently claim it hasn’t aged well. As Jessie Thompson wrote in an article onindependentin the last few years Love Actually “He’s become our go-to seasonal scapegoat.” “Dissecting every scene of it has probably become a Christmas tradition,” commented Stephanie Soteriou on buzz feed.
At the beginning of December, the British presenter Jeremy Vine dedicated an episode of his daily broadcast, The Jeremy Vine Show, to list all the “red flags” of the film, as the most problematic and alarming aspects of a certain thing are defined today in English. Many of these had already amply emerged in the old analyzes and critical reviews published above all on the occasion of the ten-year anniversary of the film, in 2013, starting from a very severe and at the same time ironic criticism of the costume site Jezebel.
During a special released on American TV a few weeks ago and dedicated to the film’s 20th birthday (which is actually 19), director Richard Curtis said he felt uncomfortable for having made a film with such a non-inclusive cast (all main characters are white). But among all the criticisms that have been leveled at the film this is one of the least.
The plot of Love Actually is an interweaving of nine stories of love and relationships that take place simultaneously, sometimes intertwining, in the four weeks leading up to Christmas day. The film takes a long time to be a romantic comedy – 2 hours and a quarter – but it is still too short to give time to each story to develop as it should, and this is the first criticism that is leveled at the film.
“He’s much more interested in piecing together as many stories as possible instead of developing people or their storylines,” Melinda Fakuade wrote on vox. From this it follows that numerous characters of Love Actually they are only sketchy and their actions – door-to-door searches, breathless runs to the airport and theatrical marriage proposals – which would like to appear romantic are mostly not very understandable or unjustified.
American critic Christopher Orr, who reviewed the film negatively in 2003, wrote on theAtlantic a second opinion ten years later, confirming his initial ideas: «Anyone who goes to the cinema with any regularity knows that the last decade has seen an abundance of bad romantic comedies. But Love Actually it is exceptional in that it is simply not, like so many other novelties in the genre, unromantic. Rather, it is decidedly, almost frighteningly, antiromantic”.
He is not the only one to argue that most of the stories contained in Love Actually convey an unrealistic and problematic idea of love relationships. The main issue raised by many is that all the romances in the movie seem to be based on a purely physical attraction. For example, the character played by Colin Firth proposes to the woman who cleans her house without the two ever being able to communicate because she only speaks Portuguese. Even the character of Hugh Grant, who plays the British prime minister, falls in love with an employee of his only after exchanging a few sentences.
The most cited example in support of this thesis is the very famous scene in which Andrew Lincoln shows up at Keira Knightley’s door and declares his love with a series of signs, so as not to be heard by her husband and best friend of him . With the song silent night in the background, the scene has been filmed and mentioned on a thousand occasions and is considered by some to be one of the most romantic in cinema. The problem with Lincoln’s character, however, is that he is in love (or perhaps even obsessed) with the wife of her best friend despite having spoken to her only a few times, as she says in the film. Furthermore, he keeps a videotape at home with the shots taken during the wedding, which only frame her and which he does not seem willing to share with anyone. Like many before him, Jeremy Vine called Lincoln’s character “a stalker.”
According to Orr, one of the problems with the film is that it “always lacks a part, jumping from the initial attraction to the romantic climax without worrying about all the boring things about – you know – actually falling in love.”
To this is added another criticism, namely that all the stories are told from a masculine point of view and at times chauvinist: what in the cinematographic field is defined as male gaze. It has been pointed out that the female characters almost never have an active will of their own, but exist in the story only as a function of the desire of the male characters. The exception that according to the critics confirms this analysis is the character of Laura Linney, a graphic whose priority in life is the care of her brother who is in a psychiatric clinic and of which she is the only remaining relative, and who for this reason is downloaded by the colleague that she likes and who has liked her for years just when something is about to happen between the two.
The only story of Love Actually that even the most critics seem to like is the one between John and Judy, an actor and an actress who meet and fall in love on a set while shooting some cover scenes for an erotic film. The two are both very shy and the paradoxical situation in which they find themselves, naked and in very intimate positions for a long time, gives rise to an understanding which is evidently more credible than the others. Of all the stories, however, this is perhaps the one to which the film devotes the fewest scenes.
The film has also been criticized because the love stories it tells involve only heterosexual couples: a common thing in romantic comedies of the early 2000s, but which is particularly remarkable for a film that contains so many different love stories. Attention has also been paid to some fat-phobic jokes referring to the character played by Martine McCutcheon, who is described chubby and plumpy (chubby, plump) in accordance with the standards of extreme thinness of those years.
Despite everything though Love Actually continues to be one of the most watched Christmas comedies in the US and UK and very well known in other countries as well. In Italy this year it was broadcast on television on December 8, 9 and 24 and in the Italian TV series I hate Christmas, released on Netflix in December, the protagonist mentions it several times as her favorite film. Those who continue to write about it do so above all to highlight its critical points, but there is also someone who has tried to defend it: «no one has ever said that Love Actually should be a manual of life» wrote Jessie Thompson on theindependent, “Pour yourself a Baileys, finish wrapping and let this silly movie get you through Christmas Eve. It’s not the antichrist guys, it’s just a Richard Curtis movie.’