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Love Actually: The most divisive film of all time?

Published December 11, 2013 11:24 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

To honor the 10-year anniversary of a movie that has ascended to "holiday classic," feuding critics at The Atlantic are slicing and dicing Love Actually. Christopher Orr says the movie trashes the whole idea of love with a parade of superficial relationships. Emma Green says the patchwork of couples represents all types of love fairly and realistically.

After reading both reviews, along with a flurry of media reaction, I feel more confident than ever in my response to Love Actually: People who love Love Actually and people who hate Love Actually never will understand each other.

Not ever.

If you haven't seen this movie, you may have high hopes. Bill Nighy + Emma Thompson + Alan Rickman + Laura Linney + Colin Firth + Keira Knightley + Liam Neeson. Just hear those award nominations jingling, ring-ting-tingling. And there's Christmas! And England! And love! How could anyone be less than charmed? Or at least entertained?

I hated Love Actually.

Several important people in my life adored it: my brother, my mom, my BFF. Each of them looked positively stung when I confessed I didn't like it. When they said they loved it, I wondered, "Do I know you?"

The movie follows 10 relationships. There is a man in love with his best friend's bride, a jilted writer crushing on his Portuguese maid, a widower and his stepson, a middle-aged smartypants husband drifting from his middle-aged smartypants wife, some porn body doubles, a washed-up pop star, a sad lady, a dead lady, the Prime Minister, and Milwaukee.

All in a little more than two hours. Not a lot of time to develop 10 "plots."

Green says that's fine; it's how the movie presented a well-rounded collection of love-ish relationships. Green draws parallels to C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves, which catalogues different types of love. Love Actually demonstrates affection (as Sad Lady Laura Linney shows her mentally-ill brother), friendship (as between the old singer and his manager), and eros (like how the one guy falls in love with his maid, despite a language barrier, because she took off her clothes and jumped into a pond).

Well, I can't dispute that a movie about a lot of different relationships covers a lot of different relationships.

Christopher Orr *kind of* explains my dislike, but he seems mostly offended by what he sees as the movie's desecration of love: that it's all about lightning bolts of (mostly physical) attraction and skips over the journey — love's development and the work to keep it alive.

Nah, that's not it. To me, the journey's absence doesn't signal a lack of real love so much as the lack of a plot. After two hours and 10 sub-plots, my head should be spinning. Instead I feel like I spent two hours watching people stand still. There just isn't time to see most of the characters go through much of anything believable, and the one sub-plot that works (Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson's) only gets like 15 minutes.

But, fans protest, the self-sacrifice of Laura Linney! The little boy whose mom died! Keira Knightley's adorable hat! Colin Firth, once again, in a pond! <— HOW CAN YOU NOT LIKE THIS?????

While you stand in disbelief of my boredom, I stand in disbelief that anyone could watch this movie 40 times, call it a "holiday classic," or (gutpunch) introduce it as the Christmas Eve replacement for It's a Wonderful Life.

Yes, I've seen it happen.

Usually I can understand how other people really enjoyed movies I don't like. But this one eludes me. It's like we saw different movies.

—Erin Alberty