A Real-Time Review of Love Actually

Aw, the music is so nice. And look, cinema verité about an airport. How cool! Real people greeting each other. Aw….

Now Hugh Grant speaks about how love is always there, despite news reports that the world is full of hatred and greed. Okay, but why can’t both be true?…. Aaaaaand he’s brought 9/11 into it. Oh dear.

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I feel it in my fingers…

Aw, Bill Nighy is the charmingly aged and high(?) rock star, Billy Mack, who curses in that adorable British way. I love him.

Colin Forth is Jamie, who’s late for something and has what appears to be a real keeper of a girlfriend. “I love you.” “I know,” she responds, without the suaveness of Han Solo. Then she follows with, “Get out, loser.”

Liam Neeson just lost his wife. That’s a little too real. RIP Natasha Richardson.

Introduce creepy office guy Colin hitting on everyone as he hands out snacks. Ugh. This guy. Someone, please slap him with a sexual harassment complaint that will likely go nowhere.

The Operative, Rick Grimes, and Elizabeth Swann are at a wedding. Did we suddenly bounce to Dragon*Con?

Oh hey, it’s Martin Freeman! Bilbo Baggins! Arthur Dent! And good lord, he’s…humping a cute woman?

New Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) is meeting a staff much smaller than to be expected to manage the ginormous house. Terrence, who’s in charge, Pat the housekeeper, and Natalie, who apparently has no job title and is just new, but also curses in that cute British way. Hugh Grant falls in luuuurrrrvvvvv immediately. Hell, me too.

Ouch, my ears.

Improbably expensive impromptu concert at the wedding. Okay, what does Andrew Lincoln’s character DO to be able to afford THAT, and also it must have sucked for the people trying to act all sentimental at the wedding when they had some obnoxious musician next to them hiding a trumpet between their legs.

Jamie comes home to find a friend….? neighbor …? oh, a brother, in his house. Nice of the random dialogue about their mom to let us know they’re before the bomb hits… his girlfriend is boinking him! I knew she was a C U Next Tuesday!

Office Creep hits on a random woman by insulting her cooking, then decides her rejection must be because British women aren’t “cool” or “game for a laugh.” Ugh. Incel for sure.

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You want us to do what?

Aw, Martin Freeman and the cute woman are stand-ins for actors who don’t want to be there for lighting the naughty scenes. The production team needs to figure out when they can see the nipples. Naturally, Martin Freeman has to put his hands over them to test that.

Liam Neeson’s character, Daniel, is giving a eulogy for his dead wife, Joanna, while her son, Newt from Maze Runner, looks on. Man, this is a bummer.

Laura Linney notices Rick Grimes staring at the newlywed couple and decides it must be that he’s gay and is in love with the Operative. I’m not sure if she actually thinks he’s gay or is trying to virtue-signal that she’s totes okay with gay people.

Ah, Alan Rickman! Doing the voice thing. While having an entirely inappropriate conversation with Laura Linney’s character Sarah, who’s one of his employees who keeps excellent track of her time at the job. Damn, I don’t even remember my start date. He wants her to confess her love for a coworker for “all our sakes.” Okay, if her crush is affecting everyone that way, the conversation should have gone very differently. Sarah excuses herself to answer a random phone call in a somewhat odd way. This woman is quickly becoming one of the movie’s most intriguing characters.

Back to Bill Nighy. He’s promoting his terrible Christmas record and being totally self-effacing. Aw, he’s such a scamp.

Now the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, intimidated by the (then) president of “Americur, the most powerful country in the world.” Groan. Okay, this movie is a British movie, so apparently the director and screenwriter weren’t too pleased with U.S.–British relations at the time.

Office Incel thinks Wisconsin is fantastic. Not sure if he realizes that Wisconsin is actually pretty great or just happened to pick a random U.S. state.

They’re planning a holiday party for the whole office with only four weeks to spare?! Amateurs.

Cue another inappropriate work conversation from Alan Rickman. Seriously, this guy is about to give everyone in HR a very happy Christmas.

Emma Thompson tries to comfort Daniel, who’s crying over a silly little thing like a dead wife. “People hate sissies,” she tells him. Man, the women in this movie are coldhearted.

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Even smoothies can’t help unrequited love.

Daniel has a conversation with his stepson, Sam. He thinks he’s just been injecting heroin into his eyeballs, but it turns out to be worse…he’s in looooovveeee. Same thing, really.

Sarah puts on makeup just to see her office crush and then answers another mysterious phone call. The plot thickens (although it’s so thin, it can really only go that way…)

Jamie is now at a rustic cottage in an unidentified warm location. “Alone again,” he sighs.

Cue inappropriate work conversation between Prime Minister and Natalie, in which she spills a surprising amount, including that her ex-boyfriend dumped her because she was “getting fat.” What is it with romantic comedies pretending that women over size four are fat?! What are we supposed to be, famine victims?

Liam Neeson continues to try to be a dad, and ultimately resorts to Titanic to impart unrealistic romantic ideals to his son.

Billy Mack, Washed-up Musician, now does crazy shit on air. Okay…this guy is starting to seem…unhinged.

Speaking of, Rick Grimes acts weird around Elizabeth Swann. C’mon, is it really that hard for the Operative to see that he has a thing for her?

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Perhaps she’s actually an alien sent down to Earth to study workplace affairs.

Mia, the horny secretary, hits on Alan Rickman, who I shall now call Creepy Office Boss. Dear lord, somewhere nearby, an HR worker is shivering with excitement.

Jamie meets his Portuguese housekeeper and mangles multiple foreign languages in typical woke white boy fashion, before realizing he can’t communicate with her. Okay, please don’t tell me they’re gonna hook up, because that would be a little fucked up.

The president arrives with all the fanfare that one would expect from Americans.

Argument ensues in a sloppily written scene, yet Spineless Prime Minister says “we’re making progress here.” It’s not until the Prez hits on Natalie that Prime Minister suddenly feels emboldened. Aw, how…romantic? Kinda troubling that a cute girl is necessary to motivate the Prime Minister into political action.

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Just try to resist that smirk. ‘Murica!

At the press conference, inspiring music soars while Prime Minister admits to the world that Britain and the U.S. are having a little lover’s spat and namedrops David Beckham, the Beatles, and Harry Potter as icons of Britain’s virtue and contributions to the world. Because you know, that’s all Britain is known for, around the world.

Whaaaat Emma Thompson is Prime Minister’s sister! And she’s married to the creepy Office Boss.

WTF is happening.

While preparing gifts for the kids, Creepy Office Boss mocks his wife’s choice of music, to which she “Joni Mitchell taught your cold English wife how to feel.” Considering that she thinks grieving widowers are “sissies,” I’m not sure Joni Mitchell really did much.

On a high from embarassing the President on international television, Prime Minister begins dancing around his ginormous house. There is literally no point to this scene other than to try to convince us that Hugh Grant is appealing.

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At least he’s not in Starbucks.

Jamie is diligently typing an admittedly bad novel on a typewriter, next to a stack of finished pages secured only by a mug, when Aurelia comes up to bring him more tea (which is apparently included with being a housekeeper) and sends the pages flying in the wind when she lifts the mug. Dude, if you wrote on a laptop instead of being pretentious, this wouldn’t have happened, but given that she immediately strips to dive into the pond and retrieve the pages, I suppose it worked out well for Jamie.

Through subtitles (assuming you don’t speak Portuguese), we discover that they talk about similar things despite not understanding each other, suggesting that they’re meant to be. Nevermind that their conversations are entirely predictable and any two people would comment on the presence of eels swimming around their feet.

Elizabeth Swann has come to Rick Grimes to exchange pie for any footage he collected of her wedding. Now we discover that he has created a creepy video about the object of his obsession. Initially she thinks it’s just wedding footage. “I look quite pretty,” she says, as though surprised. Yeah, yeah, Keira you’re fucking gorgeous. She realizes that the video is entirely focused on her and is stunned into silence. “But…you never talk to me,” she says. He tells her it’s a “self-preservation” thing. They and we all know what that really means.

Jamie drops off Aurelia for the last time, and she gives him a kiss. I still am not entirely clear on why they like each other so much when they haven’t had a single conversation and she’s been cleaning up his mess. I’d be annoyed, not entranced.

Watching a Billy Mack music video, Samuel decides that he needs to catch Joanna by becoming a musician, because “even the really weird ones get girlfriends.” You know, he’s not wrong.

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Uhh, it’s not Halloween…

Back to the creepy office party, where Mia is shamelessly seducing Creepy Office Boss and Cold English Wife does nothing except drown her feelings. Perhaps if they had been playing Joni Mitchell, she would have gone over there and smacked a bitch.

Sarah is finally getting it on with her office crush….yeeeaaahhh!

And…her phone goes off. Hey, it’s the ringtone from Jurassic Park III!

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Girl, tell him you’ll call him back!

And…she finally reveals that she has a brother who’s “not well and calls a lot,” and that she needs to leave this gorgeous creature in her bed to go and visit her brother in an institution. Okay…it’s the middle of the night. Why is he permitted to make calls at this hour and moreover, why can’t Sarah trust that the people caring for him can do their job? Also, what is the message here? Sarah just went from Most Interesting Character to Most Frustrating Character.

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Gift-wrapping is serious business.

Creepy Office Boss continues to placate Horny Secretary, who hints that she’d like him to use some of his money to buy her “something pretty.” So at the mall, after Cold English Wife wanders off, he goes toward the jewelry counter and picks out the largest (and ugliest) necklace in the case. Blackadder is there to help with the helpingest help ever to be done in the history of helping. Really, this is excellent customer service, but is totally unappreciated by Creepy Office Boss, who would rather hurry up and purchase his ticket to an affair.

Another montage…Martin Freeman finally asks out the woman he’s been fake-boinking, Jamie learns Portuguese in preparation of some creepy/romantic plan, Cold English Wife discovers the necklace in her husband’s coat pocket (oh, NO!), and the Incel prepares to go to…Wisconsin.

Okay…he goes to a bar and orders a Budweiser? I suppose he hasn’t heard of America’s thriving craft beer industry. Immediately, a flock of super-hot women descend upon him, enthralled by his accent. Okay, it’s true, we American girls do swoon over an English accent.

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My theory is that these women are nowhere near as hot as he imagines. And what?! They “aren’t the richest of girls,” despite clothes to the contrary, and they have only one bed and no couch (in a two-story house covered with holiday lights that they could apparently afford) and sleep naked together in one bed?! Or they just REALLY want to sleep with an English guy and cross that off their bucket list but they don’t know how to just say, hey, let’s go pork.

Okay, maybe he’s not an incel, becuase he never devolves into blaming women or negging them. But I can’t help but feel that only incels would imagine this is how sex happens and maybe this is all in his head…?

Cold English Wife opens the one gift that’s the same size as the jewelry package, but it is alas not the necklace. It’s a Joni Mitchell CD. In one of the movie’s only genuine scenes, the exceptional Emma Thompson apparently can feel, and she sobs as she realizes that her husband bought the necklace for another woman, listening to Joni Mitchell’s exquisitely emotional re-do of her song “Both Sides Now.”

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Break out the tissues!

Sam and Daniel are lounging together as Sam, wise beyond his years, muses about love and life. “The thing about movies is that people only get together right at the very end,” he says. Oh, how meta.

Billy Mack has reached number one on the charts for his terrible song. Now this part of the movie I can believe.

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D’awwwwwwww!

Martin Freeman struggles to kiss the woman he’s been fake porking, and it’s adorable. And then she says the chorus of that terribly awesome Mariah Carey song: “All I want for Christmas is you.”

“Uncle Jamie” has arrived with gifts for his family (not his brother, I imagine) but immediately prepares to depart. “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” he says, way too mysteriously. All the kids respond with a chorus of “I hate Uncle Jamie.” Um, all right then, brats.

Awkward conversation ensues between Sarah and Karl. You know, you two could just try to hook up again and not make it weird….? Because it’s Christmas?

Speaking of making it weird, Rick Grimes has come to put on a show for Elizabeth Swann. He tells her to lie to her husband and say it’s carol singers at the door (“Tell them to bugger off!” hollers the Operative). She does not. Rick Grimes basically tells her he’s going to love her forever no matter what and because it’s Christmas, he has to tell her this. So she…kisses him? Aww? Meanwhile the Operative is like, “What took you so long to tell them to bugger off?”

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Um, now I just feel terrible, dude.

Billy Mack has an epiphany and leaves Elton John’s Christmas shindig to spend time with his “fat manager.” This relationship has been understated, with his perpetually exasperated manager on the sidelines of every scene chewed up by Bill Nighy. “You turned out to be the love of my life,” says Mack to whom he describes as a “chubby employee.” Now of course, all Hapless Manager can do is say that it’s been an honor and they engage in an awkward Man Hug. Awww…?

Prime Minister receives a random sample of cards. He comes across one that bears a painfully honest message from Natalie —apparently Christmas is when you tell the truth— ever hard on herself, apologizing for the incident with the President and telling him she’s actually his. Once again, we have a woman working for a man who with little actual conversation has fallen for him. In fact, this love-without-conversation describes half the relationships in this film: Prime Minister and Natalie, Jamie and Aurelia, Rick Grimes and Elizabeth Swann, Sarah and Karl. It’s a bit strange and devoid of romance, almost endorsing of the stereotype of British people as cold and unfeeling (although the latter two are Americans), that their love is limited to an apparently unwitting condition that exists outside of normal social interaction or even basic sexual impulse.

And yet, Prime Minister is compelled to go get the girl. Remembering her vague description of where she lived in their ONE conversation, he doesn’t fetch her employee file like a normal stalker and instead directs his driver to take him to the “longest street in the world,” where he knocks on every door trying to find her. When he finally does, he’s met with a Home Alone-sized family and the ever-cursing Natalie. (Aww.) Of note in this scene, Natalie’s dad, who isn’t exactly a Baywatch star, calls his daughter Plumpy. Considering that she just moved back in with her mum and dad after her boyfriend dumped her for getting “fat,” I am increasingly concerned for her mental well-being.

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Okay, now this is a hilarious shot.

Natalie decides to bring Prime Minister to the school Christmas concert where Sam and Daniel, Cold English Wife and family, Martin Freeman and scene partner, and other plotlines all converge. Upon running into Prime Minister, Cold English Wife calls him her “stupid big brother,” a clever script clue for those who forgot these two were related due to the super-Inception relationship chart of this movie. Prime Minister finally reveals Natalie’s role…she’s the “catering manager!” Oh, that explains why she was shown simply bringing tea and biscuits to everyone rather than planning menus, organizing cooks, and all the other things that a catering manager would be doing.

Whoever did the whale for the nativity scene did an amazing job.

Samuel does a fairly good job at the drums despite having only been practicing for a few weeks. Perhaps my own music career has a chance.

D’awww.

Joanna points at Samuel when she sings “All I want for Christmas is you!” omgomgomg

The curtain rises to reveal the Prime Minister and Natalie making out. Oof…well, it’s hardly the creepiest thing we’ve seen a politican do.

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The school Christmas concert is definitely the best place to discuss this.

Cold English Wife confronts Creepy Office Boss and their tepid relationship withers and dies in front of us. Meanwhile, Daniel meets…Claudia Schiffer?

Now the movie is reaching its Peak Ridiculousness as Samuel prepares to chase Joanna to the airport while Jamie flies to France and prepares to either sweep Aurelia off her feet or kill her. But damn, the music is so good!

Jamie amasses a huge crowd of followers as Aurelia’s family alerts every passerby that a white man is about to propose to her. So either the Portuguese are very nosy and gossipy or rightfully concerned about slavery.

Rowan Atkinson, who apparently is the slowest person in the universe — or possibly an angel sent to prevent or facilitate people’s romantic connections?—and Billy Mack, via his naked performance on the telly, distract the security guard so that Samuel can get to Joanna.

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Samuel and Joanna finally connect. Okay, this scene is the one that made me tear up. Puppy love is so cute.

Back to Jamie. He’s at Aurelia’s workplace (!) wanting to propose to her. The manager ain’t having that. “He can’t do that—she’s our best waitress.” Hey, dude, women can be married and have jobs at the SAME TIME. I know, concept. But you know what, maybe you’re rightfully creeped out that a random dude showed up at your restaurant to propose to one of your employees. Carry on.

I can’t help but feel moved by this scene, even though it’s a little creepy. I blame the music.

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Something about this kiss just … ehhhh.

Seriously, why is this on the level of the two kids and the Prime Minister and Natalie, when we barely saw these two together?! and omg, that’s the most awkward kiss ever captured on film. But seriously, what about Sarah and Karl? Thanks for teasing us with a hot scene and then making them into sexless morons, movie.

Time for the “one month later” end of movie montage:

Natalie rushes to greet Prime Minister and jumps into his arms, and he immediately ruins the moment by making a comment about her weight. Okay, this. woman. is not. fat.

Cold English Wife and Creepy Office Boss are still together, apparently for the sake of the kids. How romantic.

Martin Freeman and his former scene partner are…engaged? “I get to shag her now,” he says, as though marriage is some sort of requirement to do so.

Apparently-no-longer-incel has returned from Wisconsin with Denise Richards and Shannon Elizabeth in tow. Given how they aren’t the richest of girls, I’m assuming he paid for their tickets.

Jamie and Aurelia greet the Operative and Elizabeth Swann, and for some reason Rick Grimes is there as well. Seriously dude, move on. I’d kinda forgotten that Jamie was even friends with them, and apparently is friends with Sarah too, having sat with her at their wedding, but nothing ever came of that.

The movie ends as it began, with a celebration of emotional greetings at an airport. All the stories form a video mosaic and mash together to form a giant heart, a great visual metaphor for how this movie was written.

This movie hits all the right emotional points, but it’s mystifying how it does so. It has too many characters for us to truly care about any of them, yet we do care. Perhaps it’s the power of the performances by actors who normally take much more serious roles (Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson) or who exude superhuman charm (Martin Freeman, Keira Knightley). Perhaps it’s the soundtrack, which blends a now-iconic score with a variety of likable pop songs and Billy Mack’s so-bad-it’s-good, fourth-wall-breaking song. Perhaps it’s the relatively simple plots that form this massive web of stories. Importantly, no plot point is really dependent upon another. While the characters have connections among each other, their love stories each exist in their own universe. Perhaps that allows the audience to project their own experiences, good or bad, onto them. That’s why this movie focuses less on sustained relationships or family love that would add complexity and more on puppy love and infatuation. But are these actually love? Perhaps unintentionally, the movie seems to be saying that people are easily swept up in the magic of the season, inclined to do stupid things, and willing to make grand gestures learned from the insane portrayals of romance in the cinema. In fact, the characters seem to be regurgitating romantic comedy tropes that they themselves have latched onto from their own genre. Very meta. Perhaps this movie is smarter than it seems and is actually a send-up of ridiculous romantic comedies and commentary on people’s impulsivity and stupidity. Perhaps that is love, actually.

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Writer by day, circus artist by night. I write about art, media, culture, health, science, and where they all meet. Join my list: http://eepurl.com/gD53QP

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