Hamlet’s Holiday Movie Countdown: Love, Actually

by Michael B. Hock

It’s become fashionable lately to write articles or think pieces attacking the 2003 romantic comedy Love, Actually. It makes sense, it’s basically all of the love stories you can possibly think of mashed together and thrown against a wall. Some of them stick, some of them don’t, and some of them are just a little weird. But for me it will forever remain one of my favorite Christmas movies. Also this is my blog, so I’ll love what I bloody well please.

Love, Actually is about… you know what, that’s going to take to long. Have you ever seen a movie starring anyone British pre-Benedict Cumberbatch? Yes, kids, there was a time before Benedict Cumberbatch. We don’t like to think about it, but we somehow muddle through. Anyway, all of those actors, they’re in this movie. Some of them fall in love. Some of them don’t. Some of them have complicated relationships that are love. And some of them go on to fight zombies in what’s supposed to be Washington, D.C. but it’s clear they never left Georgia. Oh, and this was also before Liam Neeson started issuing scary threats to kidnappers and punching wolves. I feel that’s important to mention, because if you’re unfamiliar with the movie and you see him, that little kid doesn’t get kidnapped, and Liam Neeson doesn’t tear through Europe trying to get him back.

No, this is a love story. It’s kind of THE love story. What I like about this movie is that it is about all different kinds of love: between people who love each other, between friends, between family. and it’s about how Christmas (or this Holiday season) is supposed to bring it out in all of us.

Basically, it’s about how we’re supposed to try to be nice to each other. The Holidays are a great time for us to try to do that. Maybe we can eve try that through most of the year.

All of these love stories are set in the backdrop of Christmas, with most of the time being counted down as an aging singer Billy Mack played wonderfully by Bill Nighy (Who does everything wonderfully) tries to get his piece of crap single to be the number one Christmas Single in the UK. I say it’s a piece of crap single because he acknowledges it. Basically he’s a man who’s given up, and in giving up he gets everything he wants, eventually hitting that number one, and realizing that his friendship with his manager, Joe (Gregor Fisher) is the way to go.

That one is one of my favorites. In a movie called Love, Actually that features every cliche of the romantic comedy up to and including running through an airport to declare your love before a flight leaves, it takes the time to acknowledge that hey… sometimes the person you love and want to spend time with is just an old friend.

The other sweet love story centers around Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Juliet (Keira Knightley), and Mark (Andrew Lincoln). To me this one gets unfairly maligned since essentially it’s about how Mark has feelings for Juliet, but she’s busy marrying Peter. (Which isn’t a bad choice, honestly.) But I think people tend to forget that Mark was willing to stay away from them and let them live their lives while he got over her. This isn’t the story that we might get with a romantic comedy of Mark forcing her to realize that she loves him and she should dump Peter. It’s the story of a man who loves his friend enough to back off, and eventually, get over it. The scene where he holds up the cards for her is a bit cheesy, but it’s catharsis for him. Again, people forget that he walks away from that moment. (And moves to Georgia to fight zombies. I’ll never stop making that joke.)

Of course, that’s just two of the many, many, many love stories that this movie encompasses. Really it’s more of a journey than it is a movie. But it’s one worth taking.

There’s so much to explore with Love, Actually, that I just don’t have the space to get into. There’s also the story of the Prime Minster Hugh Grant falling in love with Natalie who works at the house and fighting off Bad Santa turned President Billy Bob Thornton. Hey, he is in both, isn’t he? There’s Alan Rickman (who is an acting legend, and you should respect him) and his whole story that we never know is resolved or not. Of course, that’s the point, that these stories continue way past the point of the movie, there’s a chance they’re together, and there’s a chance that the cold kiss at the end is just because they’re British. Or Vulcans. I forget which ones don’t show emotion.

This is a movie about how we’re all connected. It’s a movie those relationships that are important to us, and how they are important, and what better time to explore them than this special time of year. This magic time of year that we all love.

Look, I’m not going to argue that Love, Actually is this fantastic movie that deserves a place of honor among Citizen Kane or Vertigo or Dude Where’s My Car whatever movie we’ve all decided is suddenly the best movie ever because it’s awesome and you’re all wrong. Love, Actually gets lumped in as a romantic movie, but what it is more than that is a relationship movie. It’s one of my favorite movies for any time of year, actually. But it does ring more true during the holidays. (All of them. Not just Christmas.) Because it is that reminder that there are a lot of stories out there. It’s a reminder that there’s a lot of love out there.

I could go on. I think I’ve tried to wrap this post up a few times at this point but I keep thinking of something to add, because this movie is so multifaceted. It covers those highs and lows, but it does so without ever seeming too over the top (well… maybe the airport scene) or being too depressing (well.. maybe any scene where you don’t end up with Keira Knightly.) But in addressing all of the romantic comedy or romantic movie cliches, it strikes up that balance that just works.

I’m going to end this here before I think of more, but basically, it’s a wonderful movie, and it’s essential watching this time of year.

Next week: we pass through the seven levels of the Candy Cane Forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then walk through the Lincoln Tunnel with Will Ferrell.

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