Quick Film Diagnosis: Love, Actually

Except not, actually

I know what I’m about to say may be traumatic for some to hear, but Love Actually as a “romcom Christmas movie” is false advertising.  The film is essentially a collection of sub-plots that we’ve already seen in lesser films and TV movies (ex. guy in love with best friend’s wife, workplace crushes and affairs, person in power falls for woman in inferior standing, boy in love with the most popular girl in school, etc.).  The reason these stories are in generally mediocre films is because they’re often unrealistic and cheesy; we know the endings before they happen, even if twists pop up along the way, thus making them the Hallmark cards of movies.  This is precisely why Love, Actually—as a collection of cheesy love stories—doesn’t work.  It’s not a movie about love, perhaps save for a handful of heartwarming BFF or parent-child moments.  Most of the story lines that are romantic in nature are better characterized as lustful.  It’s even hard to argue that it’s a movie about Christmas when the holiday feels more like a coded MacGuffin that motivates characters to inexplicably start professing their love to each other.   So if Love, Actually actually isn’t about love or Christmas, what makes it such an endearing holiday classic?  And why is it that only Love Actually is considered a cinematic success despite many near-identical attempts from American filmmakers?

To me, it’s the unexpected interactions between characters that have no direct subplot between them at all—AKA the non-love stories—that makes Love, Actually a genuinely “feel good” movie.  For example, just knowing that the prime-minister-is-the-brother-of-the-wife-whose-husband-is-deciding-to-cheat-on-her-with-his-secretary-who-lives-next-door-to-the-woman-that-the-prime-minister-is-in-“love”-with provides a weird sense of comfort I can only explain by providing the same reason I give for using social media: to feel linked in some way or another to others.   Love, Actually portrays in an unexpectedly and beautiful way that we are all connected and, even if it’s not the 7-degrees-to-Kevin-Bacon kind of connected, we can all understand and relate to shared pain and pangs of loneliness, broken hearts, unrequited love, and the joy of new relationships.  Christmas may not be the best of all holidays to dedicate to love-professing (Thanks to the aforementioned Hallmark, I have Valentine’s Day for that), but it is one of the best to be reminded that we are not alone.  In many ways, Love, Actually is truly about empathy and reassurance for everyone on all sides of the lust-to-love spectrum.

As for the American spin-offs?  After surviving He’s Just Not That Into You on a plane (twice), my guess is the Hallmark cards win more over here and without the insanely talented British cast that adds two tons of charm to Love, Actually.  We’ll save the feminism talk for both films for another time though.

Watch it when: When you want to be reminded that you’re not alone.  Or, I suppose if it’s Christmas.

While you watch: Which sub-plot of Love Actually can you relate to most, and why?


This post originally appeared as part of the awesome Write Out of L.A.’s Christmas Move Advent Calendar–check it our more here!

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