top of page

Seven ways to fix the “Love Actually” seasonal calamity

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

“Love Actually” turns an astonishing 20 years old this holiday season and it’s high time we did something about this annual calamity.

The enduring popularity of Richard Curtis’ treacly confection doesn’t astound me. I get it that a rom-com about besotted lovers chasing each other in Christmas-festooned London, loaded with A-list comic talent — including Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson and a teenaged Keira Knightley — would command some sort of following.

But I am dismayed that so many people continue to tolerate and even adore a movie that treats women so shabbily. In most of the nine loosely connected stories, the women are obliged to demean themselves, including doffing their clothes, in order to land a man.

Three of the women chase their older employers, which in one case is the British prime minister, played by Hugh Grant. His cowardly character David falls for Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), who brings him tea and cookies in his office, but he also fat-shames her and forces her out of 10 Downing Street because he finds her too much of a distraction.

Really, is this 2023 or 1823? “Love Actually” was tone deaf to its sexism when it first came out in 2003, but today it’s positively offensive.

I’m not the first critic to complain about this toxic Christmas confection, not by a long shot. Boston writer Deborah J. Bennett, in an article posted on Medium in 2017, cogently considered “Love Actually” and its many failings.

Christopher Orr of The Atlantic observed the film’s 10th anniversary in 2013 by calling it the least romantic movie of all time, because the “love” in it would be bleak in reality.

I can’t improve on these arguments. But I may be able to claim some novelty in suggesting seven ways to fix “Love Actually,” or at least make it less offensive.

Call it the “Love Actually Reality Edit” — spoiler alert for incoming plot info — and let’s hope that some enterprising digital wiz actually makes it happen.

1. Trim the runtime: “Love Actually” is ridiculously long at 135 minutes, something even fans of the movie admit, and it’s the fault of writer/director Curtis. He was too much in love with his own material and not inclined to listen to anybody but himself.

2. Slash Juliet’s pervy stalker: A 17-year-old Knightley, as Juliet, marries Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Peter, adding to the diversity that is one of the film’s few pluses. But there’s a sickening twist: Peter’s best man Mark (Andrew Lincoln) is revealed to be so gaga over Juliet, he videotaped her in extreme close-ups during the wedding so he could later gawk at her in private. Mark arrives at the couple’s home on Christmas Eve with cue cards to declare his love to a charmed Juliet, behind Peter’s back. Instead of encouraging Mark, Juliet should have called the cops. Drop this sick story entirely.

3. Don’t blame Mia for Harry’s infidelity: Emma Thompson and the late Alan Rickman play Karen and Harry, an affluent and ostensibly happily married couple. Harry runs a successful design firm, which he presides over with fatherly concern for his employees — including Laura Linney’s Sarah, to whom he dispenses love advice. But there’s a homewrecker afoot: Harry’s new secretary, Mia (Heike Makatsch), makes no secret of her desire to bed her boss, who appreciates the attention. Mia is depicted as an evil temptress (she wears a devil costume to the staff Christmas party), but why is it mostly her fault for Harry’s ensuing marital torment? Let’s deep-six this story, too.

4. Lose the Dream Girls: “Love Actually” devolves into cringing male fantasy fulfilment in the thread where unsuccessful bachelor Colin (Kris Marshall) moves to America to chase women because he’s having no luck in London. He arrives in Wisconsin (don’t ask) and immediately meets three gorgeous women in a bar: Stacey (Ivana Milicevic), Jeannie (January Jones) and Carol-Anne (Elisha Cuthbert). They fall for his British accent and invite him home to sleep naked with them in one large bed, along with their fourth gorgeous roommate Harriet (Shannon Elizabeth). This kind of “romance” might have worked in a 1980s beer commercial but not in a 21st century movie. Lose the Dream Girls, and while you’re at it, lose the entire story.

5. Axe Rowan Atkinson: Do people still think Rowan Atkinson’s arrogantly eccentric characters are funny? Did they ever? He recalls his meddling Mr. Bean character with Rufus, a fussy shop clerk who is determined to waste the time of the philandering Harry, who is trying to buy Mia some jewelry as a Christmas gift without Karen noticing. Atkinson’s schtick adds unwelcome levity to the one story in “Love Actually” that’s legitimately sad. He should be removed from it — but I’ll allow his airport cameo.

6. Stop the fat-shaming of Natalie: Does this really need to be said? Even her own dad refers to her as “pudgy.” She’s not fat, for starters, and what if she is? Would it mean she’s not entitled to love? Remove the fat jokes from the David and Natalie story.

7. End the film with Billy and Joe: There are some legitimately funny bits in “Love Actually.” They mostly have to do with aging rocker Billy Mack, played by the always delightful Bill Nighy as a cross between Keith Richards and Noddy Holder. He’s trying to make a comeback by recording a Christmas version of “Love is All Around,” which his loyal manager Joe (Gregor Fisher) hopes will be a hit. This story has the best resolution of the nine in “Love Actually,” and the movie should end on this high note.

(Originally published in the Toronto Star.)


bottom of page