Meanwhile, the rest of us, who have been watching this movie every year since it came out, find ourselves a little surprised and bemused that these critics think they’ve, like, discovered something new about it.
I remember the first time I saw Love Actually. I went to the theater with a large gaggle of girls from my freshman dorm, and (as I recall), I was the only one who was disappointed by the movie. This is because Anne and I had been watching the trailer on a daily basis basically since move-in week (wow, really, 18-year-old self? Just watched that again for the first time in 10 years. It’s…not that great.). I’m not really sure what I had in mind at the time, but basically there was no movie on earth that was going to live up to my wildest holiday expectations.
A year later, we got the DVD for Christmas. On Christmas night when my dad suggested that we put in a “classic” Christmas movie, my mom and I voted for this one. He was taken aback, and adamantly declared it “not a classic.” But we were right.
Since then I have seen it countless times. It is clearly flawed in many ways that have already been described at length by others. Perhaps most irritating to me (and I am far from alone in this) is that three of the stories involve older men chasing their younger subordinates, and one involves a very sad and pouty man making the poor decision to throw over his best friend in pursuit of Keira “Apart from my terrible taste in pie” Knightley. (She actually is British, right? How can her British accent be so bad? It doesn’t make any sense. Is she going for some…other region?)
This year I had the unique experience of “watching” Love Actually with my back to the TV. I was working on a gingerbread house, or ship actually (more on that later) and I learned a few things:
- The first scene is just so glorious
- I know this movie even better than I realized. I knew every line that was coming, but more than that, I found myself commenting on facial expressions that I wasn’t looking at! Scary.
- The soundtrack is key to the magic and/or manipulation of this movie.
This month I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes A Christmas Movie, vs. just a movie that takes place at Christmas. At least one of the haters linked above makes the claim that Love Actually has nothing to do with Christmas, that the Christmasy bit is just a ploy to reel us all in with music and lights and lend a theme to an otherwise incoherent grab bag of rom com bits from the cutting room floor.
But that’s not true. Whether or not you think Love Actually is a good movie, it is quintessentially a Christmas movie in the vein of A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Miracle on 34th St., because it believes that Christmas is some kind of day-long witching hour. That crazy shit–Santa, angels, school variety shows featuring professional baby pop stars, Milwaukee-an supermodels–happens at Christmas, that can’t or wouldn’t happen at any other time. It’s all in Natalie’s note to Hugh Grant, the gist of which is paraphrased by most of the other characters in the movie at some point: “If you can’t at Christmas, when can you, eh?”
In other words, I postulate: in order to qualify as A Christmas Movie, the plot must revolve around one or more Christmas Miracles. By this definition, White Christmas (which I can’t bear) is A Christmas Movie, while Christmas Vacation and Christmas in Connecticut, which I adore, are not. Both of these could be just as funny and effective set at any other holiday or time of year (and indeed, National Lampoon has taken that theory straight to the bank).
So Love Actually is 100% A Christmas Movie, though I concede that it may not be, strictly speaking, a great one. It is built on charming scenes and memorable if actually rather mediocre lines (I mean, compared to the classic elegance of “Shitter was full!“), rather than compelling plotlines and nuanced characters. It’s all cheap emotional tricks with large-eyed children, nostalgic music, and amusingly timed profanity. But, jeez, who cares?