If Christmas is almost here, then somebody has already tried to persuade you that Love Actually is bad. Something about Richard Curtis’ 2003 film turns usually congenial people into Grinches this time of year.
Enough, I say. Love Actually — about a bunch of couples falling in (and out of) love in the weeks leading up to Christmas — is funny and bittersweet and impossibly romantic, even though Mr. Bean is in it. Here’s why it’s our favorite holiday movie.
We know the premise is ridiculous, but we don’t care. Look, we get it — these stories are the stuff of fantasy. So is everything that happens in Point Break, and you like that, don’t you? It’s A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol aren’t exactly realistic dramas, but you don’t hear anyone complaining about them. If we want gritty realism at Christmas, we will open a bottle of Bushmill’s and play Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.
You don’t have to watch it with your children. If the kids are up, you put on Elf or A Christmas Story or Christmas Vacation. This movie is rated R for a reason — notably the porn movie subplot with Martin Freeman and Joanna Page — so bundle the little ones off to bed and watch it in peace. Then, when they grow up, they can watch it with you, and you can congratulate yourself for being an excellent parent who has passed on a beautiful holiday tradition.
We love that so many of the actors in smaller parts went on to become famous. Sure, we like seeing Hugh Grant and Liam Neeson before they became parodies of themselves. But there’s also a young, clean-shaven, showered Sheriff Rick (Andrew Lincoln) from The Walking Dead (using his real accent!). Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) from 12 Years a Slave gets the coolest of weddings (though he’s saddled with the world’s worst best man). A young Betty Draper (January Jones) parties happily before the Don years. Even the little kid who runs through the airport at the end (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) gets to be on Game of Thrones when he grows up.
We don’t think Natalie is fat. The jokes about the prime minister’s love interest being plump are just that: jokes. They’re not anti-feminist propaganda perpetrating myths about what the female body should look like. Just like Grant, the audience sees that Martine McCutcheon is beautiful as well as fabulously profane. Besides, we’d all look chubby if we had to stand next to Keira Knightley at the cast party.
We aren’t happy with the way Laura Linney’s story works out, either. There’s not a Love Actually fan alive who hasn’t thought: Look, be sensible. Your brother is in a nice facility that affords him a lot of freedom, and he will be fine. Don’t answer the phone. Go and see him in the morning, and don’t let Rodrigo Santoro back into his clothes.
Colin Firth and the eels. Raise your hand if you’d jump in a freezing lake to rescue anything belonging to Colin Firth. Yes. We thought so.
Emma Thompson’s tears. The true heart-cracking moment comes when Karen (the ever-fantastic Thompson) realizes her husband is a cheating slimebag and weeps to Joni Mitchell’s sorrowful and wise Both Sides Now. What sort of cad cheats on Emma Thompson?
Alan Rickman’s glasses. Damn it. Alan Rickman is cheating on Emma Thompson. Still, we don’t loathe him because: 1. he’s Alan Rickman; 2. those glasses are amazing; and 3. we all know now that Snape is the true hero of the Harry Potter saga.
The secret weapon that is Bill Nighy. We need the happy endings, but in truth we also need the sparkly romance leavened with some good old-fashioned bawdiness. Enter Nighy at his louche best as aging rocker Billy Mack, who beats younger, more fashionable boy bands for the No.1 song of the season. His Christmas Is All Around is so perfectly cheesy it fits seamlessly on your holiday playlist, especially next to Olivia Olson’s rousing version of All I Want For Christmas Is You.