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Christmas is a stressful time, between fighting long lines at the mall and navigating the seasonal madness of the airport, and the dark days of winter often make us desperate for a little holiday cheer. This is why, over the past 10 years, society has increasingly harbored the delusion that Love Actually is a movie that should be enjoyed by people, instead of burned in the fireplace along with the Yuletide logs. It’s become a yearly tradition as time-honored as ignoring your family members’ casual racism, and it will be inescapable this year, just as it was the last.
If you must take the plunge, here’s your spoiler-laden hate-watching guide to Love Actually’s web of subplots, starting from the best (hey, Davy Jones!) and descending to beneath the bottom of the barrel. Were I a barrel, I wouldn’t even want to be associated with this piece of Christmas coal.
9) Washed-up British pop star enjoys non-romantic storyline that has almost nothing to do with the rest of the movie (but is marginally better than anything else in it)
Love Actually is at its best only when it’s allowed to forget that it’s Love Actually and has to be about whether a group of reasonably attractive white people will fornicate. In the movie’s only watchable plot line, everyone’s favorite British Bad Grandpa, Bill Nighy (pronounced like the Science Guy) shares an unconvincing holiday bromance with his “fat manager.” We know that his manager is fat because Nighy’s character keeps reminding us at every given opportunity, as if the man has no other character traits, and Nighy constantly complains that he has to spend time with such a sad old fatty.
Fat-shaming is a common theme in Love Actually, as if the movie’s actual title is No One Will Love You Actually If You’re Over a Size 6. At least two other characters are repeatedly called out for their size, including a dowdy Portuguese girl known only as “Miss Dunkin Donuts 2003.” (One hopes this was not her name in the script.) However, at least these two men will agree to look past the manager’s morbid obesity in the spirit of Christmas and be friends (#nohomo, though), because almost anything is better than spending the holiday with your family.
8) Average-joe porn star stand-ins have a meet cute while awkwardly boning each other on what appears to be a discarded set from Spartacus
I don’t have much of an issue with this plotline (as I love seeing seeing Proto Jim from U.K’s The Office in basically everything these days), except that a) it’s rather stupid and b) why does it exist in the first place? On top of being a really awkward excuse for an R-rating, the porn-actors-fall-in-love-while-simulating-nookie scenario doesn’t fit with the rest of the film; it has a habit of humping the plot dead in its tracks. But considering that the rest of Love Actually is utterly fucking terrible, this should be considered a public service.
7) Boy falls in love with girl at school because he shares a name with his dead mother, father finds nothing wrong with this, encourages Freudian courtship, sets movie up for V.C. Andrews-style sequel
Seeing Qui-Gon Jinn and Jojen Reed bum out together on the couch and talk about the ones that got away would have a certain fanboy appeal if it weren’t so goddamn creepy. In Disney fashion, young Jojen’s mother dies, and in his attempt to find solace at this crucial time, he forms an unhealthy fixation on a girl at school who just happens to share his Dead Mom’s name. (We know this is the case because they, like nearly every couple in this movie, have never spoken.) His father, also mourning the loss of his dearly beloved, decides the best route would be to help his son pork the girl of his future therapy sessions.
But you know how it goes in these movies: Boy meets girl, girl doesn’t know boy exists, boy stalks girl, girl sings Mariah Carey song, boy violates Homeland Security laws at airport (it’s cool ’cause he’s white) to further stalk girl, girl gets on plane anyway, boy’s mom is still dead. If this kid turns into Norman Bates 30 years from now, don’t say you weren’t warned.
6) British Prime Minister falls for ‘fat’ subordinate with an adorable case of rom-com Tourette’s, fights with Movie George Bush over who gets to play rumpy pumpy with her, sacks her when it doesn’t work out, ends up with her anyway
Did you like Bridget Jones’ Diary? Good, go watch that movie instead. It is literally the same concept (fat-only-by-Hollywood-standards woman competes for the love of two men), except that no one has to worry about picturing a Tony Blair-Dubya Eiffel Tower.
5) Guy who won an Oscar for stuttering falls in love with his immigrant subordinate who speaks no English, decides that physical attraction is more important than sharing a language (or finding out her middle name), proposes
When you devise the top five qualities you’re looking for in a romantic partner, you might list things like “six-pack abs,” “encyclopedic knowledge of Simpsons episodes,” or “two penises.” No less important on that list is speaking the same language as your partner, so that you can do crucial things like find out their middle name or trick them into upping their life insurance policy if you want to pull a Gone Girl.
But not sharing a common tongue never stopped anyone in Love Actually: Sad writer person Colin Firth falls in love with his Portuguese housekeeper without exchanging a word, because in Richard Curtis’ world, power imbalances and workplace sexual harassment make the heart grow fonder. Not seeing this as any way inappropriate, Firth’s Jamie continues to use his position to lust after his paid employee, leading to a wacky scenario where she has to jump in a lake in her bra and panties to save his manuscript. If it was anything like the film’s screenplay, she shouldn’t have bothered.
4) Woman gets repeatedly cockblocked by her mentally unstable brother, decides the answer is to retreat into a codependent relationship
No matter how ludicrous the plot line is, I usually understand what I’m supposed to take from a scene in Love Actually: Love conquers all, love is all you need, love means never having to say anything in the same language, loving you is easy because you’re beautifully mute, Tippecanoe and Shakespeare, too. But having seen this movie half a dozen times, I still have no bloody clue what to do with the Laura Linney plotline, in which a three-time Oscar nominee is forced to make sense out of whatever’s even going on here.
Because no one at their office has an actual job to do, Laura Linney’s boss, Severus Snape, comes up to her, apropos of I don’t even know what, to confront her about her nether-region feelings for her racially ambiguous coworker, Karl, played Xerxes from 300. (This is totally Severus Snape’s business.) She magically arranges a nookie session with Xerxes—despite displaying zero chemistry, having barely spoken, and him being an eight-foot-tall gay Persian god and all—but is cut short. Her brother with an Unspecified Movie Illness needs her to come to the mental institution right now so he can quote lines from Gothika at her. Her lady parts dry up instantly, and she accepts her fate as a sad, unfuckable spinster, just in time for Christmas. End scene.
Maybe we’re supposed to realize that family comes first. Maybe it’s actually an after-school special lesson about the burden of caring for a loved one with U.M.I. (a horrible condition that afflicts between 5 and 10 percent of all plot devices). Or maybe this is actually a spin-off of Teeth, and her brother saved Xerxes from a life of singing soprano. No matter the answer, we’ve all now officially put more thought into this storyline than anyone involved did making it.
3) Sentient vagina sexually harasses her boss, Severus Snape, briefly disrupts his loveless marriage to Screen Goddess who is clearly too good for him before he and S.G. go back to being vaguely depressed ever after
Presumably because she’s never seen Die Hard, Alan Rickman’s secretary, who is basically a sentient vagina, very aggressively endeavors to make like Ty Pennington and wreck his crumbling home, a subplot that would be a lot creepier if the genders were switched (or the secretary weren’t, of course, smoking hot).
In Love Actually, there’s nothing worse than being hitched to an age-appropriate female who speaks your same language, has said more than two words to you, and doesn’t curse every other sentence, so Rickman and his on-screen wife, Nanny McPhee, are unhappy. However they violate Tolstoy’s Law of Unhappy Families by being unhappy in a perfectly boring way, mostly because the writers didn’t bother to think up why. (But in a post-apocalyptic world where vaginas have taken human form, who has the time to think about making a marriage work?)
While his wife mopes around and waits for her husband not to be an emotionally philandering asshole, Rickman buys the S.V. a necklace for Christmas (because they were all out of diamond merkins, I guess). His wife accidentally discovers the gift in his coat, but she ends up with a Joni Mitchell CD instead. She’s not stupid and puts two and two together. She calls him on his bullshit, and they go back to being unhappily married, except that their unhappiness is slightly more interesting this time. In my opinion, the wife and the would-be mistress should have gone Full Tolstoy and thrown Rickman under a train.
2) Emotionally manipulative best man who hardly knows the bride-to-be (a.k.a. his best friend’s wife) takes a bunch of creepshots of her at her wedding before confessing his stalker love for her
According to Emily Post, it’s customary to get the bride and groom a present for their wedding. Quiz question: You’re Rick from The Walking Dead and your best friend, Solomon Northup, is getting married to Elizabeth Bennett. What do you give them? a) A magic remote that fast forwards in space-time through The Talking Dead, b) Solomon’s freedom, c) Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar, or d) A unsolicited video montage consisting of close-ups of his fiancée’s nostrils taken at different angles. (Elizabeth Bennett does have lovely nostrils.) Answer: D, of course.
Despite the fact that he has, until this moment, gone out of his way to show his dislike for her, Elizabeth discovers the video and learns His True Feelings. Like all people in this movie, they are near strangers, but a lack of knowledge about the basic facts of her life (as well as common decency) don’t stop him from filming a PG-13 snuff video about his best friend’s girl or using cue cards to declare his love for her in the snow. You can’t let propriety spoil a cheesy gesture after all.
Having nearly sabotaged his BFF’s relationship, Rick walks away in the snow, seemingly satisfied at having displayed nearly every characteristic of a sociopath. Like a crap Jesus, he mutters to himself, “Enough, enough now,” except that Christ at least died for our sins. What’s Rick’s excuse?
1) Horrible British pervert obsesses over American girls, goes to America, procures American girls like cattle
All of the plot lines in Love Actually exist at the base line of being pretty horrible, taking place in an alternate universe where a woman is never as beautiful as when she silently serves you and former supermodel Claudia Schiffer is magically on hand to fuck your dad, but the movie’s worst subplot is on another level of bad. 30 Rock posited “Reaganing” as a term for doing everything right in the course of a single day, and this is the opposite of that—which, I think, makes it Marcus Bachmanning.
Future public park flasher Colin obsesses about American girls constantly, so he gets a bright idea: Why doesn’t he just go to Milwaukee, bag one like a poacher, and drag her back to the U.K. just in time for the holidays? It would be a Christmas miracle! This being Love Actually, the world’s most beloved supercut of sexism, Colin does not bag one American babe: He gets four. Because Hollywood is terrible and they all have nothing else to do, Elisha Cuthbert, January Jones, Ivana Milicevic, and Shannon Elizabeth drop their entire lives and purchase expensive plane tickets to follow a man they just met, simply because he has a cute accent. I’ve seen this movie: It’s called Hostel.
If you’re a woman, this movie clearly thinks you’re an idiot. But don’t worry, it’s this movie that’s got too much holiday stuffing in its brain.
Screengrab via Pinoy Movie/YouTube
Nico Lang is an essayist, movie critic, and reporter who specializes in the intersection of politics and LGBTQ issues. His work has been featured in Rolling Stone, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, Jezebel, Esquire, and BuzzFeed, among other notable publications.