This is without a doubt the closest thing to a seasonal post I’m going to write this year. I originally meant to post it in a series of tweets. But as I thought about it in the shower–where I do most of my best thinking–I realized that while it may make a short blog, it’s far too long for Twitter. So here.
I get really sad this time of year when I see people dissing Love, Actually. I remember watching it when it came out and loving it. Last year, we re-watched it for the first time since its release. And you know what? I still loved it. In fact, it may have made its way into the position of my number one favourite holiday movie, edging out White Christmas for the honour.
Most of the flak I see about it calls it unrealistic, privileged, and sexist. And if I try really hard, I see elements of all those things, sure. It deals with rather well-off British people and presents most of its stories from the male point of view. Does this make me love it any less? No, and here’s why:
Love, Actually is a movie about a commodity that is all too thin on the ground these days: Love. Love that comes unexpected. Unrequited love. Weird love. Bad love. The love that sustains two people over years, as in the case of Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) and his manager. The love that fails. The love Emma Thompson’s character finds for herself when her marriage falls apart. The love of a father for his son and the first crush that dazzles with its intensity. The love that makes you do crazy things you never would have tried before.
I don’t care that the relationship between Liam Neeson’s character and Emma Thompson’s is never defined. Do we really need a platonic friendship between a man and a woman spelled out for us? I’d rather simply accept that it exists. I don’t care that the uniting metaphor of the airport indicates class privilege or creeps you out. I don’t find it at all hard to believe that the guests at the wedding didn’t remark on the saxophones sitting next to them, or that Billy Mack is recording a Christmas single five weeks before the holiday. I’ve been a recording musician, see. And I’ve played weddings. Guests will pretend not to notice all kinds of stuff to keep a secret from the bride and groom, and sometimes you throw together a recording at the last minute to see if it flies. What the fuck is wrong with people that they have to grasp these picayune details as a way to support their dislike of the film?
I love Love, Actually because it’s a character-driven fantasy in the best tradition of the white telephone movies of the 30s. It shows us life as we’d like it to be. It shows us things working out–or not, but even when they don’t work out as the characters might hope, there are always reasons to go on. Yes, it plays on tropes that maybe some people don’t like. And it does it in a light-hearted fashion you can take or leave. It’s uplifting and put together so well that I can’t help cheering at the end. And in a world where I am seeing more and more violence and less and less tolerance every day, I need that. I need the reminder that we can be more. And I am more than willing to overlook certain flaws for two hours to experience the joy.
As a Tarot reader I am experienced in the ways symbols and imagery can strike a person differently every time they appear. Sometimes, when The Lovers comes up, you see the couple. Sometimes you see the Angel with the bow. And sometimes you see the snake in the garden. In the same way, your focus can shift when you watch a movie multiple times. Today it’s a fun romp, and tomorrow it’s a travesty. So I do get it. Not everyone is going to like what I like, and those who do like what I like may not like it every time. Still, I do think it’s sad that there seems to be a trend of focusing on the things this movie doesn’t do–many of which, in my opinion, it was never meant to do–and ignoring the things it does so spectacularly well.
If you don’t like it, fine. You don’t have to. But I’ll keep watching it, and I’ll keep enjoying it.