Love Actually is a 2003 multiple-charactered film that occurs in London near the Christmas holiday. The premise of the film is basic: A series of characters, all of them interconnected, endure the trials and tribulations of love. The characters range from newlyweds, to those in long marriages, to a widower, to those who are single, to budding friendships that have the potential for more. On the surface, Love Actually is a mere excuse to integrate a variety of vignette romantic-comedies into a single film under the guise of it being a “Christmas movie.”
Structurally, Love Actually is an awful movie. Its characters are relegated to character-types, its plot is minimal, and the A-list cast is hardly utilized to the capacity that they are capable of. Even the film’s theme, love, is emphasized almost as if it were a panacea for all issues of the world, trivializing the complexities of relationships and watering it down to being like that of a Hallmark card. Love Actually is more of a sloppy kiss than it is a romantic one. Yet why is Love Actually a beloved Christmas movie? I, myself, must confess that I adore this film. On paper, I shouldn’t, yet I find it to be endearing and consider it a must-watch movie every year around Christmas day.
The reason is simple and can be attributed to the film’s opening line, “Love actually is all around.” Further adding to this premise is the touching and poignant opening to the film at the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport, where unconditional love is put on display for all to see. Despite the issues of the world and the complications of life, to be reunited with another we care about evokes a level of love that cannot be repressed. Instead, we outpour our love at that moment and fully embrace the capacity to drown in our feelings of bliss and knowing that we are wanted. The opening of the film reminds us all that we want to be loved and we want to be loved back.
What made audiences embrace Love Actually, bringing it to a Christmas cult-film status was its ability to resonate with anyone who watches it. Whether you enjoyed the movie or not is irrelevant because there is some point in the film, somewhere, that you will observe the interactions occurring and realize how true to form they are with your own love life. The film may embellish the concept of love to an almost sickening level, yet it’s within its subtext that makes the film impactful. As the film represents, love is a inherent sentiment within any individual. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you rank in the world, we all want to experience love. Therefore, as the film conveys to us, love is universal. Love isn’t interpretative. Love isn’t debatable. Love is simply love.
Again, Love Actually trivializes the lasting impact love can truly have and doesn’t truly capture the idea of love remaining after a relationship has ended or even the more ominous ‘broken heart’ scenario. Instead, the film focuses in the sort of “In-process” facets of love, which marginalizes the film, but we as the audience very quickly forgive that. We forgive it because we hardly appreciate love when it’s in our possession. Often, we recognize love after we lost it and lament of having lost it. Love Actually is a sort of time capsule that forever allows us to appreciate love as it occurs. The film may be tacky, we may cringe due to the cheesiness of the scenarios, yet we appreciate it because love is irrational. We forgive the plotlines for being fragmentary because love is rarely presented in a palatable manner. Love tugs and pulls at our innards, we get nervous and trip over our sentences, we can’t stop smiling, and we even get awkward when we should be happy. Love makes us go crazy, but it’s always welcomed.
What Love Actually does capture well is the reality that love affects us in different ways. It can make us awkward, it has the potential to not be reciprocated, and oftentimes we sometimes have to say goodbye. Yet nonetheless, love continues to thrive and blossom. As evidenced by Jamie (Colin Firth), he finds new love after his wife cheats on him. Daniel (Liam Neeson) aids his stepson in finding love after he, himself, lost his wife. These two characters represent how one’s internalized love never dwindles, even after enduring a moment of sadness. Instead, they convey to others that love has the capacity to thrive even in the worst of scenarios.
Love Actually even touches on the underbelly of love, which is the potential to love another and push the boundaries of morality due to love. Harry (Alan Rickman) has his sights on his secretary despite being married to a loving wife (Emma Thompson). Mark (Andrew Lincoln) has intense feelings of love for his best friend’s wife (Kiera Knightley), but holds himself back out of respect for his friend. In both these scenarios, we are confronted with the humanity of love, and again, linking with the concept of love making us irrational, these characters are met with personal dilemmas of hurting others to appease their desire for love. It is due to these two storylines that Love Actually is presented as a somewhat honest film, even though it is aimed to appeal to our hearts. Without a hint of deception, we wouldn’t be able to truly recognize this film as genuinely touching upon the concept of love because love sometimes has the potential to be ugly and we have to realize these moments when they present themselves.
In the past, when asking fans of Love Actually which character they personally loved from the film, the answer is almost unanimous: Billy Mack (Bill Nighy). On the surface, this makes sense: His character is the hilarious backdrop of the entire film as a washed-up former rocker who has tweaked one of his classic songs to be the newest Christmas hit. He’s aware the song is garbage and openly acknowledges it’s garbage, but wants to see if the world has the ability to embrace something minimal. In many regards, it is almost a metaphor for the Love Actually film itself. The film isn’t great, in fact it is sometimes awful to watch, yet the world embraced it despite its flaws and shortcomings.
At the beginning of the film, Billy Mack openly admits he doesn’t appreciate Christmas since it is a holidays for lovers and further acknowledges that he is alone. He is jaded with life and uses self-deprecating humor as a crutch to hide his loneliness. This understanding for the character can only be seen when studying the subtext of Nighy’s character because his actual performance is a hilarious caricature of former rockers desperate to be in the spotlight again. Nighy’s defeatist personality is hilarious to watch, but one must recognize that it is a performance of someone devoid of love, having nobody to provide love towards. That is what makes the conclusion of the film so profound when Billy Mack realizes that love isn’t solely relegated to romantic relationships, but it further extends to friendship. When he realizes he loves his manager (Gregor Fisher) and suggests they celebrate Christmas by getting drunk and watching porn together, it’s an opportunity for him to connect with another person outside of the passive life he embodies. It’s a further reminder that sometimes love is staring us all right in the face and it is only until we open our eyes that we can actually feel its warmth.
Part of why many people adore Billy Mack is because audiences most resonate with him when applying the film towards themselves. We live in a somewhat pessimistic society and world, and as a result, we contribute to that sentiment. Yet how do we detach from that cold environment? It’s by connecting with another person and living in the now. Love isn’t solely assigned to relationships. Friendships are the basis and foundation of love. Friendship love is what gives us something to contrast when we find romantic love. Friendship love is also the most profound since those who love us will protect us, watch our back, and always lend an ear when we need to vent. It’s only when we recognize that friendships are a form of love that we can truly appreciate them as such.
Love Actually isn’t necessarily the greatest film ever made. In fact, the movie is near impossible to watch outside of the month of December. However, what continually lures us all to this blatantly cheesy film is its ability to remind us of what love is and the impact it has on our very lives. As The Beatles phrased it in their famous single, “all you need is love.”