I’ve actually started packing away my copy of Love Actually with my Christmas decorations every year, which limits my viewing of it to just once, annually. This is a necessary precaution because it’s way too easy for me to get swept away in this movie.
It feels like the ultimate romantic movie, possibly because in this movie Hugh Grant AND Colin Firth both get the girl. But for every frenzied makeout session, there’s also a cold, awkward peck on the cheek. Your heart breaks as much as it soars. There’s grand gestures, and well thought-out lingerie, slow dancing cheek to cheek, and enough first kisses to charm even the more cynical hearts.
But for me, this movie excels not in its romantic tropes, but in the darker corners. You don’t need this movie to tell you that Emma Thompson is superb, but it does confirm it. The scene when she’s in the bedroom, having just unwrapped Joni Mitchell instead of jewelry, is moving and real. Only a few moments (and even fewer tears) are devoted to her broken heart and we watch her pull herself back together to give her children a smiling, overbright Christmas. Only an extended hug for brother David belies just how much she’s hurting. This movie happens to take place in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and while the magic of the season seems to heighten the romantic aspects, and give courage to those who need it, it also highlights the loneliness, the forced joviality, the false cheer.
There’s probably some sort of personality test about which couple your root for in this movie, but I must confess, I also adore the non-romantic-couple bits: the sweet and silly bromance between Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) and his fat manager, the sacrifice of Sarah (Laura Linney) for her institutionalized brother, the shared grief and renewed bond between Daniel (Liam Neeson) and his young stepson.
I’ve been watching this movie for a decade and I still squeal at all my favourite parts: the papier-mache lobster head, the Rowan Atkinson gift wrapping, the Beatles sendoff, Hugh Grant dancing unselfconsciously, the falling in love by subtitles between Jamie and Aurelia, Martin Freeman warming up his hands for “the nipples,” Rick Grimes taking a break from zombies. This movie has it all, and I’ve certainly heard it criticized for being over-stuffed, but personally I wouldn’t know which subplot to cut. Sure it’s self-indulgent, but watching this movie every year is a gift I give myself.
The assholes will be reviewing their favourite holiday movies all December long, so stay tuned!