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The Six Cinematic Crimes of “Love Actually”

Because even Colin Firth can’t save it.

The Six Cinematic Crimes of “Love Actually”

Because even Colin Firth can’t save it.


I’ve got a feeling. That tonight’s gonna be a good — no wait. That’s not my feeling. How to describe? It’s the feeling that I’ve had two beers and IT’S TIME FOR THE WORLD TO HEAR MY UNIQUE AND ENLIGHTENING PERSPECTIVE ON LOVE ACTUALLY.

God, so much has been said. And yet, like the inevitable drunk moth drawn to the drunk flame, I must also weigh in. I just can’t help myself because I can’t believe that nobody’s really alighted on the reason why “Love Actually” is so loved, so loathed, so popular, so repulsive, all wrapped up into one gift-wrapped cinematic present for an international audience.

Some have said it’s a tragedy. Some have said it’s purely, deeply romantic in all the right ways. Some say it’s anti-love and romance. Some say it’s just a dumb Christmas movie that was made a decade ago and christ, please shut up about it already. (This last statement is actually correct.)

But everybody else: I’m here to tell you: YOU’RE WRONG. It’s not a tragedy. It’s not a romantic comedy.

What is Love Actually actually, then, Catherine?

I’m so glad you asked. My thoughts: Love Actually is a guy’s fantasy. JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER MOVIE EVER MADE IN HISTORY ABOUT ROMANCE BY A MAN (AND PROBABLY A COUPLE WOMEN TOO).

“Sorry, guys. This is a movie made for women by a man.”— Jezebel’s Lindy West (in a truly hilarious recap-blog of the movie you’ve got to read)

And to that, I say: No shit. That is nearly every movie ever. Only this one has become socially acceptable for everybody to like, BECAUSE BRITISH ACCENTS. And for some reason, it has become acceptable, nay, necessary, for guys to talk about how much they like it, not to mention socially acceptable or for two dudes to literally go back and forth, forever, like the infinity poop, just pooping out reviews and analysis of it, in to each other’s buttholes, forever.

But seriously. It’s a fantasy on a bigger scale than the Lord of the Rings movies. Arrow-shooting elves (or whatever those guys are; YOU’RE NOT HERE FOR LOTR FANDOM) are more likely to start existing in our world than for romance and love to play out the way the movie depicts it.

And I like the movie too, is the thing! I’ve watched this dumb piece of work several times and somehow get a warm glow when I do, even though I’m roundly beating up my inner feminist while that’s happening. I think those who like it mostly do so because the whole concept of romantic true love is a fantasy, and people like fantasies. This movie is like every cultural projection about love, and princesses, and marriage, and slutty women, and what women deserve in terms of romantic fate, all rolled into one. And BRITISH ACCENTS.

It is really truly terrible on its face, though, when you lay it all out. It commits hundreds of cinematic crimes on women and romance. I’ve spotted 6 — I’m sure there are more. Let me detail these for you.

THE TOP 6 CINEMATIC CRIMES PERPETRATED AGAINST WOMEN IN LOVE ACTUALLY

#1 Cinematic crime against women:
Men fall in love with women without speaking to them. Or even speaking their language. Because boobs.

#2 Cinematic crime against women:
You’re fat. You’re just always fat. Even if you’re gorgeous and the Prime Minister is in love with you (which happened before the two of you spoke two words; see #1), unless you’ve got a body like Claudia Schiffer, you’re fat. This must be referenced constantly.

#3 Cinematic crime against women:
You cannot contain multitudes of emotional relationships, especially if one is with your mentally ill brother. In no way does that leave room for romance. GOTTA FOCUS ALL THE LOVE LIKE A LASER ON JUST ONE DUDE CAUSE THAT’S WHAT HE DESERVES.

#4 Cinematic crime against women:
Stalking a woman in an extremely creepy way is considered romantic (see also: The Twilight movies). When a man tells you he is obsessively in love with you, EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE MARRIED TO HIS BEST FRIEND, you should respond by kissing him. (In reality? If a dude had 100s of vids of me in his house then declared his love for me via posterboard while my husband was 10 feet away, I would hand over my therapist’s name, then say, “Please leave my life. Forever.”)

#5 Cinematic crime against women: (this sort of overlaps with #4):
Grand romantic gestures by men towards women must always be welcomed with open arms and immediately win the woman over instead of her running away screaming. Ugh. So tired of the trope that if a man declares his love for you in an over the top way, you must be all like, “You’re right! Let me hand over my love to you. You WON ME. Here is my love in a velvet-wrapped box, I hand it to you gently, and willingly, because that marriage proposal from you, a stranger in the cafe where I’m trying to work and earn some tips cause I’m an immigrant in a country where I don’t speak the language, etc, made me feel funny in my girl parts.”

#6 Cinematic crime against women:
WOMEN NEVER GET TO MAKE A GRAND ROMANTIC GESTURE IN THIS MOVIE. Goddammit, if a 9 year old guy gets to have a cool scene where he’s running through security to win his love, set to swelling music, as implausible and stupid as that is, LET ME HAVE ONE TOO. AT LEAST GIVE WOMEN EQUAL STUPIDITY. But no. Because 1. That would be crazy if a woman did it, haha, what a psycho! 2. The only woman who sort of makes non-passive romantic advances is the slutty slut slut of a secretary who seduces Alan Rickman because women are slutty slut sluts.

I’m sure there are many, many more Cinematic Crimes, but those are the ones that leap out to me. And even though there are some seriously nasty high offenses committed in this movie, a lot of us like it. We like it because it’s a fantasy. It’s escapist. It shows us the easy, fun, completely sexist version of what we’ve been told the world should be like. And in some ways, it’s just easier to succumb to the dump tropes, to the insulting exchanges, to Hugh Grant loving a practically obese woman — it just doesn’t require any effort.

Love Actually is what movies depicting romance have been like since the start of time. This one has a nice veneer of good acting and British accents (I’m serious — if this didn’t have British accents we would NOT love it so much) to add a pretty patina to it all and make it go down easy. (And to me, it is sincerely telling that the two male authors who started this whole infernal kerfluffle about this movie refer to its sins or its achievements solely in terms of its portrayal of LOVE and whether said portrayal is right or wrong — not the fact that woman have no agency or realistic depiction).

So what am I saying, here? What’s the point of these thousands of characters typed into the void? Well, I hate to break it to you: there is no point, we’re all going to die alone, and I only wrote this to convince myself that the world has meaning and I’m not achingly alone in the universe because I too can craft blog posts about decade-old movies.

But the other point? Almost all “rom coms” are this bad. I don’t know why Love Actually earns 25 billion thinkpieces for its sins. For decades in cinema, women have been told that this is the way love is. For decades in Hollywood, this is the way men have wanted, hoped for, fantasized relationships and emotional entanglements to be — and pointed out that if they weren’t, women were the crazy ones. For decades, romantic heterosexual relationships have been portrayed in the cinema in exactly the same ways that Love Actually portrays them.

Look, in the end, I can forgive anybody, including myself, who likes Love Actually. Because BRITISH ACCENTS. And Colin Firth. And I guess it kinda WOULD be nice to fall in love without having to ever try or talk to a person or go on OKCupid.

But maybe instead of spending hours debating the movie’s merits, we can go out and find cinema that portrays love and relationships in more realistic ways. Perhaps we can support female filmmakers who can hopefully make movies that speak to a more egalitarian version of romance.

And we could also just admit to ourselves, Love Actually is a movie with many sins, but sometimes, things are hard, and we just want to pop a beer and watch a stupid fantasy movie. Arrow-shooting elves don’t exist, but they’re fun to watch — and just because they’re depicted on screen doesn’t necessarily mean that most of us think it’s that way in real life. At least, I hope not.

(important medical disclaimer: if you have taken any of the actions that any of the men have taken in this movie, there is a probability that you are a psychopath, and I suggest you seek help)